“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” - Alexis de Tocqueville

What is history and why should I study it?  

The purpose of studying history is to better understand the complex cultures as well as the historical systems and events that have driven the past, produced the present and guide the future of our world.  This crucial discipline reveals human connections across time and place; it teaches us about past human experiences and their influence upon our present lives.

Historians no longer see their discipline as a parade of powerful men and lists of dates. Instead, we critically analyze evidence about all people living in the past to create an inclusive narrative of past human experiences and an understanding of issues that impact the modern world.

So while history is the study of the past, it is simultaneously a tool used to understand the present. It encompasses every dimension of human interaction, including social life, economics, gender, culture, philosophy, conflict and politics. History students study individuals, communities and nations from every conceivable perspective and they employ all the techniques of the humanities and social sciences to raise important questions and probe for answers about how our world has developed over time.

In particular, this discipline is about analyzing evidence in order to better understand the causation and significance of historical phenomena. In this way, history leads us to better understand the complexities and problems of our modern world. Only after we understand the historical causation of a problem can we hope to solve it effectively. As Herbert Hoover once stated most eloquently, “The supreme purpose of history is a better world.”

No other discipline better prepares students to deal with and understand our contemporary world than does the discipline of history.  In the process of carrying out this crucial field of study, students trained in history develop the critical skills of research and analysis, creative methods for recognizing patterns in information, and techniques for effective and persuasive writing.  This combined skillset will enhance students’ marketability and success in any professional career.


What history courses are offered at GRCC?

GRCC offers a number of survey courses on World history, European history, Latin American history and United States history, as well as numerous specialized upper-level courses such as African-American history, gender and sexuality, immigration and ethnicity, local history and many others. Students may also choose to pursue individualized history research projects through independent study courses.

Our courses are open not only to history majors and minors but to the college community as a whole. Most courses have no prerequisites, although some 200-level courses may have restrictions based on the need for the completion of other courses beforehand. For more information on specific courses, please see the college’s course catalog


Who teaches history at GRCC?

All history classes at GRCC are taught by highly trained fulltime and adjunct faculty members who specialize in a wide array of periods, places and approaches to history. We pride ourselves on being an excellent teaching department. We converse frequently among ourselves about pedagogy (the science of teaching), stay apprised of the cutting-edge of scholarship in our fields and work to incorporate the latest scholarship and the best teaching techniques into all of our courses. Our consistently positive student evaluations reflect our enthusiasm and our dedication to teaching.

In addition, our historians are also experienced, professional scholars with many honors and credits to their names, and who are continuously engaged in an enormous range of activities involving research, publishing, presentation, community outreach and service to the college and the wider academic community. All these activities inform our teaching and ensure the highest quality educational experiences for our students.


What careers are possible with a history degree? 

The study of history opens a wide variety of careers to students and gives them the knowledge and skills to succeed in fields ranging from education, law, government, business, the non-profit sector, the arts and many other fields. Students wishing to know more about the career opportunities afforded by a history major are encouraged to visit the American Historical Association website.


Whom may I meet with for more information? 

Those who would like more detail on the discipline of history, GRCC’s specific history classes, or any other related issue are encouraged to contact one of three full-time faculty members, each representing a different subfield.

Mike Light
Chair of the Social Science Department
Professor of American History
(616) 234-4298
203A White Hall

Susan Williams
Professor of European History
(616) 234-4418
203E White Hall

Robert M. Hendershot, Ph.D.
Professor of World History
(616) 234-4104
203D White Hall


Other Interesting Ideas about History . . .  (Just for fun.)

"The present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding."
— Will and Ariel Durant, The Reformation

"History has thrust something upon me from which I cannot turn away."
— Martin Luther King Jr.

"When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness."
— Alexis de Tocqueville

"Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward."
— Søren Kierkegaard

"You don't change the course of history by turning the faces of portraits to the wall."
— Jawaharlal Nehru

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity. . . . But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and checks in some measure its irresistible flow, so that, of all things done in it, as many as history has taken over it secures and binds together, and does not allow them to slip away into the abyss of oblivion."
— Anna Comnena

"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 (106 BC - 43 BC), Pro Publio Sestio

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
— George Santayana (1863 - 1952), The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."
— H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946), The Outline of History, vol.2, chapter 41, 1921

"The lovers of romance can go elsewhere for satisfaction but where can the lovers of truth turn if not to history?"
— Katharine Anthony

"Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake."
— Robert Penn Warren

"A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false."
— Thomas Babington Macaulay

"History is a science, no more and no less."
— J. B. Bury

"History is not a science; it is a method."
— Charles Seignobos

"History teaches everything including the future."
— Lamartine

"History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future."
— Robert Penn Warren

"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development."
— Aristotle

"A country without a memory is a country of madmen."
— George Santayana

"History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten."
— George Santayana

"Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis."
— Schopenhauer

"Skepticism is history's bedfellow."
— Edgar Saltus

"History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind."
— Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794)

"The theologian may indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity.  A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian.  He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings." 
— Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."
— Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821)

"History is not the accumulation of events of every kind which happened in the past. It is the science of human societies."
— Fustel de Coulanges

"The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."
— Mark Twain

"Man in a word has no nature; what he has ... is history."
— Jose Ortega y Gasset

"If history teaches anything about the causes of revolution-and history does not teach much but still teaches considerably more than social-science theories-it is that a disintegration of political systems precedes revolutions, that the telling symptom of disintegration is & progressive erosion of governmental authority, and that this erosion is caused by the government's inability to function properly, from which spring the citizens' doubts about its legitimacy."
— Hannah Arendt

"The supreme purpose of history is a better world."
— Herbert Hoover

"Hope is the other side of history."
— Marcia Cavell

"After the collection of facts, the search for causes."
— Hippolyte Taine