A new study suggests that knowledge about ancient history is so important to understanding our world today that people need an education about the subject.
In a study published Monday in the journal PLOS One, researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University at Buffalo surveyed more than 6,000 students about their knowledge about Ancient Egypt, including knowledge about the ancient civilization’s kings, rulers and queens.
“The importance of understanding ancient history has always been debated, but the study makes a compelling case that the ancient knowledge has always remained a cornerstone of understanding human society,” said study co-author Brian Schreiner, an assistant professor of sociology at the university.
Schreiner and his colleagues surveyed students’ knowledge of Ancient Egypt in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates.
They found that knowledge of ancient history increased from 6.4 percent of the U.S. population in the 1970s to a high of 20 percent in the 2000s.
Schneiner and colleagues used a scale of “deep knowledge” — that is, knowledge about more than 5,000 different subjects, including astronomy, physics, geography, geography of languages and the humanities — to determine how much people knew about Ancient Egyptians.
They also considered whether the students’ understanding of ancient Egypt changed over time, and whether knowledge of Egyptian history changed as well.
Schmidt and his team found that a greater amount of students had high “deep” knowledge about Egypt, as did their knowledge of the ancient monarchs, royal family and royal court.
They had a greater degree of understanding of the kings’ lineage and of the royal family’s history.
“A higher degree of knowledge about an ancient civilization is more powerful than a lesser degree of historical knowledge,” said Schreiners co-authors.
“A person who has knowledge about history and knowledge of history is more likely to understand and share ancient histories and understand the importance of ancient knowledge.”
The authors also found that students who were more familiar with the ancient history of the world had higher levels of “depth of awareness” of Ancient Egyptians’ history, including understanding the ancient kings’ names, the royal lineage, the ancient kingdoms’ names and the history of Egypt.
Students who had a higher level of knowledge also were more likely than others to understand the kings royal lineage and the royal court’s history, as well as to recognize the names of the pharaohs who ruled Egypt.
Students who knew more about Ancient Egyptian history also were less likely to use Ancient Egyptian names and symbols in their daily lives.
They were also less likely than those who had low levels of knowledge to learn about the pharaonic kings’ reigns.
Overall, the study found that the more knowledge students knew about the past, the less likely they were to use Egyptian names in everyday speech, and the less they were likely to know about the kings pharaonics.
Schreeiners co, author Michael Bekenstein, a professor of archaeology and ancient history at the UB, said that students with a greater understanding of Ancient Egyptian mythology and history were more attuned to their culture and more likely not to use the names and images of pharaoh and pharaoh’s descendants in everyday conversation.
Bekenstein said that while the researchers were unable to identify exactly why students need to learn more about the Ancient Egyptians, it may have to do with their “deepness of knowledge” about the culture.
“It’s probably something that’s really driven by deep understanding of a culture, and that may have something to do, perhaps, with the idea that we all share something deep in our heritage,” he said.
“In terms of the extent of that deep knowledge, it’s probably very, very small.”
Schreiners research also looked at the role of history in understanding the past.
He said students who knew less about history were less able to learn the “story of the past.”
He also found higher levels on the depth of knowledge scale of students who “shared more of their history through their own personal memory, rather than through books or history books.”
Bekinstein said that the study showed that students’ learning about the history they are familiar with is influenced by their deep knowledge of a given subject.
“We do know that the history you learn about influences the way you relate to history, but we don’t know how much of that influence is directly tied to what you know about history, and how much is tied to your knowledge about that subject,” he added.