Yes, history is important in martial arts. It explains many aspects of why each martial art is the way it is. Each art was formed at a certain time, under circumstances/motivations that were unique for it. Failing to take into account the history of a martial art can lead to an inferior understanding of it. (Perhaps not in the techniques, but certainly the philosophy.)
For example, Judo was designed as a training art. It contains many techniques from other arts, but the philosophy was that it was for training and therefore the energetic techniques (throws and groundwork) were left in, but the overtly attacking techniques (kicks and punches) were left out. Until you know this, it seems strange that Judo is quoted as coming from arts that have many dangerous techniques in them, but somehow they got lost in the transition.
Similarly, it is my understanding that Wing Chun Kung Fu was designed initially for ladies and that explains the economy emphasis on movement and the straight-line target area on the opponent.
Note: Edited because it was rightly pointed out that I'd answered the wrong question.