"Will Google lower ranking for that history website?" Absolutely not.
Fresh sites are one thing, but many long standing sites that have not changed much or at all have value of course. Search engines know this based upon the search metrics for the site. It can see the relevance. It is a balance between timely content and historical content. Google, using linguistics, can determine not only if a site is about history, but is history being that it represents a period in more recent time. There are plenty of sites that are largely no longer updated that still perform well.
There is a caveat, however. How is Google to know if a site is abandoned? This gets a little trickier. Rarely is a site not changed. It may not be changed much. It may not be changed often. But it is changed. As well, abandoned sites generally do not get renewed. So any site that still performs well, gets renewed, still sees some updates even as tiny as they may be, will be rewarded.
What freshness is about is this.
It is not about changing all of your pages to make search engines think you have value. Hell, if a page is coded right, it can exist for well over a decade and perform well. Freshness is about adding content and even timely content that will lose value over time. You can write something new on the Civil War, a new perspective, or you can write about Paris Hilton not wearing underwear. As long as you are adding content on a consistent basis, i.e. the site is not abandoned, Google will know there is an investment in the site.
And that is largely what this is all about. Investing in your site. Activity. People. Searches. Links. Click-Through Rates. Low Bounce Rates. Time Spent on Page. Time Spent on Site. Social Shares. Tweets. Likes. It can be a site on the Napoleonic Wars that has not seen new content in over a decade, after all, perhaps everything known about the Napoleonic Wars has been written. But suddenly, a History Channel special- O'Reilly's Killing Napoleon- sparks an interest and the site that enjoyed an academic audience will bubble to the top of the SERPs for the popular/trend search.
Do seldomly updated websites rank worse in Google? Not necessarily.
Much of rank depends upon so many factors. There are plenty of older sites that are rarely updated that perform well where they should. What these sites have in common are specific searches for historical content, not just the Civil War, but also odd little things like clock chips that were made in the 80's. As well, these sites often enjoy a fairly decent amount of back links and of course site metrics such as site age amongst the many signals that show that a site has particular value. Any site that has moderate success when young can still enjoy serious rank years later.
I came across a site I had not seen in many years today. Frankly, I had forgotten about it. It was a computer, web, scripting site. It was a popular site and still ranks extremely high even though the content remains largely out of date. The reason for this is simple. The site enjoyed a fairly significant back link profile for all of it's life. It may be that the site does not have as much traffic today, but the users that linked to it were telling the search engines that the site has value. There are other metrics of course. However, for a site whose time had come and gone, still not only enjoys good rank, but good traffic for historical searches for people who are interested.
Search engines know how to divide sites into various categories, but more important than that, search engines know how to recognize search intent and value. That is what separates a successful site today and a decade from now.