The past is presentStudying history helps to expand the mind.
Studying history is important in shaping the larger political ethos of the country. But the History Department at Tribhuvan University is often vacant. With as less as five students enrolling in the programme, the department is almost defunct now. This is a worrying trend, and the authorities concerned must do all that they can to revive the History Department. Like they say, to understand the future, it is important to understand the past. This understanding of the past must, however, be sensitive, analytical and open to critical enquiry. Without studying history, other disciplines fail to make sense in their entirety. It encourages critical thinking, creates a shared cultural literacy, and makes connections across time periods and places.
But it was not always like this at the History Department at Tribhuvan University. In the 1970s, many students opted to study history over other subjects. Regrettably, studying history gradually became less and less popular. According to the History Department, 54 students enrolled for the history Master's course in 2013, but only four of them continued for a second year. The next year, in 2014, marking a sharp decrease from one year ago, 10 students enrolled in the course. But none continued the following year. That is a huge loss. Fast forward to 2019 when there were 18 students who enrolled for the history Master's course; and this year, there were only five of them.
The reason for History Department losing its popularity is partly because the university began expanding, and new courses were introduced in the social sciences. But without an understanding of history, studying political science or sociology, for that matter, becomes incomplete.
For any Nepali citizen, regardless of their cultural background, it is imperative to have a sound knowledge of history to understand Nepal, support its laws and even live with true consideration for the rights of other people. It helps citizens understand their responsibility towards their nation, and even enjoy the privileges they receive. Only when people understand these critical issues can they expand the same opportunity to all. In short, studying history and other courses in the social sciences helps to expand the mind. By studying history, one can help reflect how much Nepal has changed, or not for that matter. And it is this kind of holistic understanding that helps shape its youths for the future.
What we are witnessing at the History Department is part of the larger problem that plagues our higher education. The number of universities in the country might be increasing, but the existing ones are not necessarily functional. The purpose of any university is to produce knowledge and help equip the next generation of leaders with critical thinking. It is a place where both students and the faculty learn by challenging the established, and questioning the accepted. Studying history helps preserve the stories of our making, our vulnerabilities and what we can be. As Cicero said, “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history.”
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