Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
This aphorism is commonplace enough to have become contentless. Yet, I believe that for the most part, while history has much to say, we have little to learn from it.
In a very basic sense we learn much from history. Once we learn that touching a hot stove hurts, we stop doing it. There are some "enduring principles" which we learn and must not forget.
However, most the situations in which this cliche is invoked are not so easily analyzed. In fact, I would assert that more often than not history misleads us. Trying to extrapolate from "fact patterns" and make a conclusion about what should be done is a fairly fruitless exercise, especially if two or more parties in some form of competition are involved. First, situations never repeat themselves exactly. Any variance in the fact pattern could partially or completely destroy the lesson learned from history. Furthermore, other parties will also learn from history and change their own behavior, leading to unexpected or even completely contrary results.
I do believe we can learn general principles from history, but often these principles are so abstract as to be useless as policy directives or action plans.
So what does history really teach us?