History as the Present – Its Role in Shaping Identities and Perceptions


History is a prime agent of shaping our personalities. Thus, to be aware of one’s history translates into an awareness of oneself, or at the very least, a surface-level introduction to one’s identity. To understand how history spreads its branches and permeates almost all aspects of our personality, we must analyze the role of history as a tool that determines not only our past but also our future.

History as the Past

The term history, in its most common application as an academic discipline, derives from its attachment to the past – things that have already happened, important dates of formulation of national policies, wars, independence, birthdays, and so on. It is evident that one’s past is pivotal in determining their life – for instance, you might expect an indigenous Indian to be wary of technocratic capitalism, much like you would yourself be wary of something that reminds you of a traumatic experience from childhood.

History as the Present

It is widely acknowledged that history works not only as a passive determinant in the background but is an omnipresent feature of one’s daily life. Every mode of action resembling a social norm or custom, or the plethora of traditional beliefs that one continues to propagate, are all the workings of history in the present, unlike the mainstream perception of it as merely an irrelevant, intangible substance of the past.

History as the Future

Here’s where it gets complicated. How does a study of the past come to include a role in determining the future of countries and individuals?

To understand this better, take the example of a kid bitten by a dog in his childhood. The incident, although it happened years back when he was a child, comes to have a direct effect on the adult who is always wary of a dog in the streets because it is reminiscent of a bad experience. Not only does it influence his psyche in the present, but it also restricts him in the future from ever hoping to get a pet dog.

Similarly, a country ravaged by colonial and imperial interests in the past comes to be termed as belonging to the ‘third world’ – although the truth is, it has been left overexploited by rich colonial empires. This problem extends into the future as well, determining the policies and laws which the country adopts, the state of the next generation of populations (who will have to grow up in abject poverty), the scant availability of natural resources (left in shambles by the parasitic policies of its imperial government), and so on.

The Fallacy of Divorcing History from the Present

From the above examples, it is clear that one would be doing a massive disservice to history by not acknowledging its role while judging present circumstances or prospects. Any critical analysis of a subject, be it a country or a nation, or the actions of an individual – should at all times come accompanied by an awareness of the nature of circumstances that has led to its present form. By divorcing the past from the present, we reduce our vision of judging something by generous proportions, and instead come across as biased and fallacious. It is important to remember that history has not stopped happening, and we take part in moulding it through actions that may seem as trivial as reading an essay or writing one.

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