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Throughout the history of civilization, some people have either recorded or passed along orally the significant events and ideas of their times. People in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome wrote accounts of the life and events of those great civilizations. In fact, the Greek writer Herodotus generally is considered the first historian. Historical writings help us to know the people and leaders who lived centuries ago and how their actions may have influenced the development of modern civilization. It is the job of historians to analyze the past and present us with this information. Often, we can make better decisions and plan more carefully for the future if we are aware of the actions, judgments, precedents, and mistakes of the past.

Much of our knowledge of history has been gleaned by modern professional historians who have studied manuscripts, documents, artifacts, and other traces of earlier periods. Some of the manuscripts or writings they study were written as actual historical accounts; others may be letters, diaries, or fiction with some historical basis.