Lessons can and should be derived from history, but the caveat always applies that identical conditions never appear twice. I think our primary duty is to avoid idealizing ourselves.
I don't really romanticize any historical period unto itself. I minored in Medieval Studies in college, and I was always interested in the art and literature from that era, though I have no illusions about life being easy during that period.
The era I read the most about, though, is eastern Europe during WWII, because my grandparents and their families got caught smack in the middle of it, so I personally identify with that region / period / events. And personal connection aside, the period from Operation Barbarossa through the Battle of Berlin was the closest humanity has ever come to the apocalypse. Tens of millions of dead, utter wastage and brutality, cities leveled to the ground, mass suffering on a stunning scale. It's the anti-
romantic aspect of history. It helps to have a nadir sometimes -- to know exactly what we're capable of and how bad it can get. And the good
aspects of the time -- the resiliency of everyone who somehow made it through this war -- hold yet other lessons about humanity and survival.
Along similar lines, I've become very interested in the history of West Africa mainly as a result of travelling and working there -- but also because I see them as another region that has suffered from violence, exploitation, and neglect, and I see their voices and stories as being lost as they become further marginalized.
I've read a lot of epic poetry from Mali, which was the center of three major empires in medieval West Africa, and I've actually seen bards -- yes, real live bards -- singing the stories of these ancient kings like Sunjata Keita and Askia Mohammed.