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date: 18 April 2024


  1. History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided.
    Konrad Adenauer 1876–1967 German statesman: attributed
  2. History, despite its wrenching pain,
    Cannot be unlived, but if faced
    With courage, need not be lived again.
    Maya Angelou 1928–2014 American writer: ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ (1993)
  3. Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that's too grand, too considered a process. History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago.
    Julian Barnes 1946–  English novelist: A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (1989) ‘Parenthesis’; see Marx
  4. Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write.
    Douglas C. Baynton American historian: Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umanski (eds.) The new Disability History. American Perspectives (2001) pt. 1 ‘Disability and the justification of inequality in American History’
  5. History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.
    Alan Bennett 1934–  English dramatist and actor: The History Boys (2004)
  6. history, n. An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.
    Ambrose Bierce 1842–c.1914 American writer: The Cynic's Word Book (1906)
  7. That great dust-heap called ‘history’.
    Augustine Birrell 1850–1933 British essayist: Obiter Dicta (1884) ‘Carlyle’; see Trotsky
  8. History repeats itself; historians repeat one another.
    Rupert Brooke 1887–1915 English poet: letter to Geoffrey Keynes, 4 June 1906; see Marx
  9. It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can; it is perhaps because they can be useful to Him in this respect that He tolerates their existence.
    Samuel Butler 1835–1902 English novelist: Erewhon Revisited (1901) ch. 14; see Agathon
  10. To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain forever a child.
    Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) 106–43 bc Roman orator and statesman: De Oratore ch. 34, para. 120
  11. History is philosophy from examples.
    Dionysius of Halicarnassus fl. 30–7 bc Greek historian: Ars Rhetorica ch. 11, sect. 2
  12. A people without history
    Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
    Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
    On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
    History is now and England.
    T. S. Eliot 1888–1965 American-born British poet, critic, and dramatist: Four Quartets ‘Little Gidding’ (1942) pt. 5
  13. History is more or less bunk.
    Henry Ford 1863–1947 American car manufacturer and businessman: interview with Charles N. Wheeler in Chicago Tribune 25 May 1916
  14. History is past politics, and politics is present history.
    E. A. Freeman 1823–92 English historian: Methods of Historical Study (1886)
  15. What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of man's ideological evolution and the universalism of Western liberal democracy.
    Francis Fukuyama 1952–  American historian: in Independent 20 September 1989
  16. History…is, indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.
    Edward Gibbon 1737–94 English historian: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88) ch. 3; see Voltaire
  17. War makes rattling good history; but Peace is poor reading.
    Thomas Hardy 1840–1928 English novelist and poet: The Dynasts (1904) pt. 1, act 2, sc. 5
  18. It is difficult at times to repress the thought that history is about as instructive as an abattoir.
    Seamus Heaney 1939–2013 Irish poet: Nobel lecture, 7 December 1995
  19. What experience and history teach is this—that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.
    G. W. F. Hegel 1770–1831 German idealist philosopher: Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (1830, tr. H. B. Nisbet, 1975) introduction
  20. Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.
    Karl Marx 1818–83 German political philosopher: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) sect. 1; see Hegel
  21. Happy the people whose annals are blank in history-books!
    Montesquieu 1689–1755 French political philosopher: attributed to Montesquieu by Thomas Carlyle in History of Frederick the Great bk. 16, ch. 1
  22. And even I can remember
    A day when the historians left blanks in their writings,
    I mean for things they didn't know.
    Ezra Pound 1885–1972 American poet: Draft of XXX Cantos (1930)
  23. Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive.
    Ayn Rand 1905–82 American writer: The Fountainhead (1947)
  24. Forgetting and even mistakes in history are an essential part of becoming a nation.
    usually quoted as ‘Getting its history wrong is part of being a nation’
    Ernest Renan 1823–92 French philologist and historian: What is a Nation? (1882)
  25. Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts;—the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art.
    John Ruskin 1819–1900 English art and social critic: St Mark's Rest (1884)
  26. History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember.
    W. C. Sellar 1898–1951 and R. J. Yeatman 1898–1968: 1066 and All That (1930) ‘Compulsory Preface’
  27. Ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art.
    Lytton Strachey 1880–1932 English biographer: Eminent Victorians (1918)
  28. History gets thicker as it approaches recent times.
    A. J. P. Taylor 1906–90 British historian: English History 1914–45 (1965) bibliography
  29. I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.
    Thucydides c.455–c.400 bc Greek historian: History of the Peloponnesian War bk. 1, ch. 22, sect. 18 (tr. Richard Crawley, 1874)
  30. Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
    H. G. Wells 1866–1946 English novelist: The Outline of History (1920) vol. 2, ch. 41, pt. 4
  31. Too early to say.
    in a conversation with Henry Kissinger about the success of revolutions in France, early 1970s. This has been widely quoted as referring to the French revolution of 1789, but Nixon's interpreter Chas Freeman and Chinese archives make clear that while questioned about the French revolution and the Paris Commune, Zhou Enlai in reply was clearly referring to the Paris riots of 1968
    Zhou Enlai (Chou En Lai) 1898–1976 Chinese Communist statesman, Prime Minister 1949–76: in Financial Times 10 June 2011