Although Georg Hegel quipped, "We learn from history that we do not learn from history", Aldous Huxley expressed a more nuanced view: "The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different." In order to understand present-day positions and peculiarities in any field of human endeavor, familiarity with the past is essential. Those of us who study myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) or care for patients diagnosed with these troublesome conditions may wonder also how the current state of affairs evolved with respect to our narrow area of focus, and how we know what we think we know now about these still-enigmatic bone marrow diseases. Here, I review a number of developments that collectively represent a brief "history of MDS." I first highlight a few landmark observations that preceded any concept of MDS by hundreds of years. Twentieth-century case descriptions and series with hypotheses about the etiology and nature of disorders described as "refractory anemia", "preleukemia", and with other terminology culminated in the efforts of the French-American-British (FAB) Co-operative Group of morphologists, whose landmark 1976 and 1982 papers provided the first widely-used classification of MDS. More recent developments in the MDS field include new mechanistic biological insights, regulatory approval of several somewhat-effective treatments, and improved organizational support and advocacy. The history of a disease concept like MDS, as for history in general, provides both inspiration and cautionary tales that can inform present and future work.