Without individual memory, a person literally loses his or her identity, and would not know how to act in encounters with others. Imagine waking up one morning unable to tell total strangers from family and friends! Collective memory is similar, though its loss does not immediately paralyze everyday private activity. But ignorance of history-that is, absent or defective collective memory does deprive us of the best available guide for public action, especially in encounters with outsiders, whether the outsiders are another nation, another civilization, or some special group within national borders. . . Historical knowledge is no more and no less than carefully and critically constructed collective memory . . . Clearly we need careful reflection about, and search for, enduring patterns and critical turning points in the past, for these are the historical facts that everyone needs to know.
-William McNeilI, Why Study History? (1985)