Why is History important?

Luxembourg | Aug 2016

Five summers ago, I was a senior-to-be at Cal. Opposed to what the Berkeley career service advised, I spent my last summer with the Berkeley Travel Study program in Europe — instead of doing an internship in the City or the Valley. Over five weeks in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), with 21 other Berkeley students across all fields, we visited 33 cities to learn about art, history and culture. I was the only student from Haas.

That trip changed my perspective on history. Before the trip, I was never interested in history. I didn’t understand the point of learning about things that already have happened — things we can’t do anything to change. Unlike the other 21 students from majors such as art, rhetoric studies, sociology, philosophy…, my study focused on the “future”. In my head, I thought: “In business, we calculate ‘Net Present Value’ and ‘Future Value’. There ain’t such thing as ‘Past Value’. If anything, we business people call it a ‘sunk cost’. So is history important?”

As I continued to wonder about why history is important, one day I saw a quote on the wall of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. Otto Frank, Anne’s father wrote in 1967: “To build the future, you have to know the past.” That quote changed my perspective on history. And ultimately it expanded my view on the subject of “business” as well.

Five years later, I am back in Luxembourg at the exact spot. Little did I know then that, five years later, after moving across three continents, I would now call this part of the world “home”. Things often make little sense when they happen. Sometimes taking the chance to embark on an “unrecommended” path can lead us to beautiful destinations, even if the process involves great uncertainty. Now, as I reflect on my past, I wonder, what future shall I be building in the next five years?