This paper explores 30 students' views on the purposes for studying US history. Twelve students were 5th graders, 12 were 8th graders, and six were high school students. Responses were drawn from detailed interview protocol data compiled over three years in the context of a larger research programme that extensively studied the teaching and learning practices in five American history classrooms, two at 5th grade, two at 8th grade, and one at the high school level. Two questions from the protocol frame this exploration:`Why do you think they teach you American history in school?' and `How might learning American history help you in your life away from school?'. Responses indicated that (a )all the students were able to construct some answer to the questions; (b ) rationales for learning history varied considerably by age, interest and ethnic background, but versions of the Santayanan rationale and utilitarian responses were most common; (c ) students seemed initially puzzled by the questions as though they had never considered them before; and (d ) students appeared to hold a `stabilized', consensus view of history, meaning that they thought of history as a collection of putative facts and that their task was to learn them. Implications are considered against the backdrop of teaching and learning American history and the current history curriculum.