Proponents & Naysayers - Famous Historical Quotes

Naysayers insist history is irrelevant or that explicit lessons for today cannot be derived from it.  They seem to believe that history has no lessons for political science.

Proponents believe history is relevant, but generally for reasons other than explicit guidance it may provide for handling today's problems.

Here's a sampling of what people have said:

Bio Links Available With Each Quote

  • Lord Acton: ...knowledge of the past, the record of truths revealed by experience, is eminently practical, as an instrument of action and a power that goes to making the future.
  • Maya Angelou: History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.
  • Francis Bacon: Histories make men wise ... able to contend.
  • Pearl S. Buck: One faces the future with one's past.
  • Cicero: History ... provides guidance in daily life ...
  • Confucius: Study the past, if you would divine the future.
  • Norman Cousins: History is a vast early warning system.
  • J. Rufus Fears: Wisdom of history is ... the ability ... to use the lessons of the past to make decisions in the present and to plan for the future.
  • Livy: (Through) the study of history ... you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings, fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.
  • Karl Marx: History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
  • David C. McCullough: History is a guide to navigation in perilous times.
  • Dr. Carl Sagan: You have to know the past to understand the present.
  • George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
  • William Shakespeare: What is past is prologue.
  • Harry S Truman: The only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know.
  • Friedrich Von Schiller: The world's history is constant, like the laws of nature, ... The same conditions continually produce the same results.
  • Denis Waitley: Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.
  • Ambrose Bierce: History (is) an account false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
  • Augustine Birrell: History is the great dust-heap... a pageant and not a philosophy.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: History is a set of lies agreed upon.
  • Edmund Burke: You can never plan the future by the past.
  • Thomas Carlyle: History (is) a distillation of rumour.
  • Lord Chesterfield: History is a confused heap of facts.
  • Henry Ford: History is more or less bunk.
  • Seamus Heaney: ...history is about as instructive as an abattoir.
  • Georg Wilhelm Hegel: Experience and history teach ... that people and governments never have learned anything from history ...
  • Douglas Hurd: History provides no precise guidelines.
  • Gerda Lerner: Historical events are infinitely variable and their interpretations are a constantly shifting process.  There are no certainties to be found in the past.
  • George Bernard Shaw: We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
  • Paul Valery: History is the science of what never happens twice.
  • Voltaire: History is just a portrayal of crimes and misfortunes.
  • Kurt Vonnegut: History is merely a list of surprises.  It can only prepare us to be surprised yet again.
  • George F. Will: The future has a way of arriving unannounced.

Do You Have A Favorite Historical Quote?

We would love to hear your suggestions for historical quotes to add to this page.  Please suggest quotes or comment on the HST Project or potential subject matter via email or by leaving comments.