John Locke on the Study of History

“With Geography, Chronology ought to go hand in hand.  I mean that general part of it, so that he may have in his Mind a view of the whole current of time, and the several considerable Epochs that are made use of in History.  Without these two, History, which is the great Mistress of Prudence and Civil Knowledge; and ought to be the proper Study of a Gentleman, or Man of Business in the World; without Geography and Chronology, I say, History will be very ill retained, and very little useful; but only a jumble of Matters of Fact, confusedly heaped together without Order or Instruction.”  John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education § 182 in The Educational Writings of John Locke, ed. James L. Axtell  (Cambridge 1968), p. 292. 

John Locke knew the importance of studying history.  He thought that the study of history makes one wiser.  However, he also pointed out that one must study geography and the chronological order of events.  Notice also that Locke states the study of history was essential for being a ‘gentleman’ or doing business in the world. Locke also explained how the reading of history should be appropriate to the age of the student.  Notice one level of reading and learning builds toward the next level of cognitive ability.  Locke wrote:     

“As nothing teaches, so nothing delights more than History.  The first of these recommends it to the Study of Grown Men, the latter makes me think it fittest for a young Lad, who as soon as he is instructed in Chronology, and acquainted with the several Epochs in use in this part of the World, and can reduce them to the Julian Period, should then have some Latin History put into his Hand.  The choice should be directed by the easiness of the Stile; for where-ever he begins, Chronology will keep it from Confusion; and the pleasantness of the Subject inviting him to read, the Language will insensibly be got, without that terrible vexation and uneasiness, which Children suffer, where they are put into Books beyond their Capacity, such as are the Roman Orators and Poets, only to learn the Roman Language.” John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education § 184, in The Educational Writings of John Locke, ed. James L. Axtell  (Cambridge 1968), p. 293.  [Italics in original] 

 

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