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quotations about history

History, n. an account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.

AMBROSE BIERCE, The Devil's Dictionary

The history of the world is but the biography of great men.

THOMAS CARLYLE, Heroes and Hero-Worship, The Hero as Divinity

History ... is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.

EDWARD GIBBON, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues.

T.S. ELIOT, Gerontion

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.

ALDOUS HUXLEY, Collected Essays

The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.

MARK TWAIN, Following the Equator

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.


History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

CICERO, Pro Publio Sestio

History is more or less bunk.

HENRY FORD, Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916

To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.


To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning. It is a very serious task, young man, and possibly a tragic one.

HERMANN HESSE, The Glass Bead Game

Psychology keeps trying to vindicate human nature. History keeps undermining the effort.

MASON COOLEY, City Aphorisms

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

GEORGE SANTAYANA, The Life of Reason

The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from.

JOHN STILL, The Jungle Tide

History fades into fable; fact becomes clouded with doubt and controversy; the inscription molders from the tablet: the statue falls from the pedestal. Columns, arches, pyramids, what are they but heaps of sand; and their epitaphs, but characters written in the dust?


History can be well written only in a free country.

VOLTAIRE, letter to Frederick the Great

What experience and history teach is this -- that people and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on the principles deduced from it.

G.W.F. HEGEL, Philosophy of History

It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir.

SEAMUS HEANEY, Nobel Lecture, Dec. 7, 1995

History is philosophy teaching by examples.

THUCYDIDES, The History of the Peloponnesian War

All great historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice ... the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

KARL MARX, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

Great men are the inspired texts of that divine Book of Revelations, whereof a chapter is completed from epoch to epoch, and by some named History.

THOMAS CARLYLE, Sartor Resartus

History is the autobiography of a madman.


I'm interested in the way in which the past affects the present and I think that if we understand a good deal more about history, we automatically understand a great more about contemporary life.

TONI MORRISON, Time interview, Jan. 21, 1998

History ... is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.


The history of mankind is a romance, a mask, a tragedy, constructed upon the principles of POETICAL JUSTICE; it is a noble or royal hunt, in which what is sport to the few is death to the many, and in which the spectators halloo and encourage the strong to set upon the weak, and cry havoc in the chase, though they do not share in the spoil.

WILLIAM HAZLITT, Characters of Shakespeare's Plays

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

H.G. WELLS, The Outline of History

All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.


Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded.


History is written by the winners.

ALEX HALEY, as quoted in And I Quote

Old men can make war, but it is children who will make history.

RAY MERRITT, Full of Grace

The only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today.

HENRY FORD, Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1916

I don't believe ... that history repeats itself. There is no cycle. History is permanently doing the same thing. Sometimes we don't notice what's going on, that's all--and sometimes we have no choice but to see.


Nowhere is it ordained that history moves in a straight line.

BARACK OBAMA, The Audacity of Hope

Each day is a little bit of history.

JOSÉ SARAMAGO, Baltasar and Blimunda

History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history--while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance--might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.

HOWARD ZINN, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train

It is sometimes very hard to tell the difference between history and the smell of skunk.

REBECCA WEST, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Half the things you've been taught in school are just convenient fictions. History is a puppet show for childish minds.


History is not the soil of happiness. The periods of happiness are blank pages in it.

GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH HEGEL, Lectures on the Philosophy of History

History viewed from the inside is always a dark, digestive mess, far different from the easily recognizable cow viewed from afar by historians.


Any true student must realize that History has no beginning. Regardless of where a story starts, there are always earlier heroes and earlier tragedies.


No matter how carefully records are kept and filed and computerized, they grow fuzzy with time. Stories grow by accretion. Tales accumulate--like dust. The longer the time lapse, the dustier the history--until it degenerates into fables.

ISAAC ASIMOV, Foundation's Edge

The ideal historian goes to the mouth of the tomb, cries: "Lazarus, come forth!" and sets him that was dead for ages, blinking and passionate, in the sun.

AUSTIN O'MALLEY, Keystones of Thought

History is like a bloodstain that keeps on showing on the wall no matter how many new owners take possession, no matter how many times we paint over it.

PETER CAREY, attributed, Ghost Empire: How the French Almost Conquered North America

History is a relay of revolutions.

SAUL ALINSKY, Rules for Radicals

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

MAYA ANGELOU, On the Pulse of the Morning

We cannot escape history.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN, annual message, Dec. 1, 1862

Human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.

HOWARD ZINN, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress

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History Trivia - a fun trivia quiz on world history.

Historical Poems - a collection of poems about historical events.


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