25 Great Quotes about History

What does history mean? We came across these quotes, ranging from the funny to the profound, revealing what people think of history.

“It is not worthwhile to try to keep history from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the preventing of the repetitions impossible.” ~ Mark Twain (1835-1910), American novelist


“True history exists to tell us about human social life, which is the world’s environment, and the nature of that environment as it appears from various events. It deals with civilization, savagery and tribalism, with the various ways in which people obtain power over each other, and their results, with states and their hierarchies and with the people’s occupations, lifestyles, sciences, handicrafts and everything else that takes place in that environment under various circumstances.” – Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), North African social scientist

“For the purpose of history is not the same as that of tragedy but rather its opposite. Tragedy must startle and entertain its listeners in the present moment by using the most persuasive words, while history must teach and persuade for all time those who love learning, by means of actual deeds and words. In tragedy the ruling principle is whatever is persuasive, even if it is false, so as to deceive those looking on; in history it is truth, so as to benefit those who love learning.” ~ Polybius (c.200 – c.118 BC), Ancient Greek historian


“I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.” ~ Jane Austen (1775-1817), English novelist

“An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” ~ Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), American writer

“Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things, and drowns them in the depths of obscurity, no matter if they be quite unworthy of mention, or most noteworthy and important, and thus, as the tragedian says, ‘he brings from the darkness all things to the birth, and all things born envelops in the night.’ But the tale of history forms a very strong bulwark against the stream of time, and to some extent checks its irresistible flow, and, 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.” ~ Anne Komnene (1083 – 1153), Byzantine historian

“People who make history know nothing about history. You can see that in the sort of history they make.” ~ G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), English novelist


“History gets thicker as it approaches recent times.” ~ A.J.P. Taylor (1906-1990), British historian

Swindon: “What will history say?” Burgoyne: “History, sir, will tell lies as usual.” ~ George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish writer in his play The Devil’ Disciple.

“Again I entered my smithy to work and forge something from the noble material of time past.” ~ Jean Froissart (c.1337-c.1405) – French historian

“The duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.” ~ Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish writer


“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” ~ John F. Kennedy (1918-1963), American President

“What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.” ~ Victor Hugo (1802- 1885), French writer

“History is, in its essentials, the science of change. It knows and it teaches that it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical.” ~ Marc Bloch (1886-1944), French historian

“History is more or less bunk.” ~ Henry Ford (1863-1947), American car manufacturer

“The principal office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity.” ~ Tacitus (c.58 – c.120), Roman historian


“History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” ~ David C. McCullough (1933 –2022 ), American historian

“This above all makes history useful and desirable; it unfolds before our eyes a glorious record of exemplary actions.” ~ Livy (64 BC – 17 AD), Roman historian

“Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples.” ~ Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c.60 –  c.7 BC), Greek historian talking about his predecessor Thucydides

“He who puts out his hand to stop the wheel of history will have his fingers crushed.” ~ Lech Walesa (1943- ), Polish politician and leader

“History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.” ~ Edward Gibbon (1737-94), English historian

“History is the only laboratory we have in which to test the consequences of thought.” ~ Etienne Gilson (1884-1978), French historian of medieval philosophy

“The search for the truth for truth’s sake is the mark of the historian.” ~ B. H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970), English soldier and historian

“Not to know what has been transacted in former times is to be always a child. If no use is made of the labours of past ages, the world must remain always in the infancy of knowledge.” ~ Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman politician

“What is history?, our answer, consciously or unconsciously, reflects our own position in time, and forms part of our answer to the broader question, what view we take of the society in which we live.” ~ Edward Hallett Carr (1892-1982), British writer and author of What Is History?