“The Case for History as a Tool to Change the World” (2017)

Cody J. Foster

Published online at History News Network here.

“As a “hard” social science, history can be used as an antidote to make the world a better place. Applied history can shape public policy, allow for better informed citizens, and help to enhance society. It can inspire students to appreciate the study of the past and encourage skeptical politicians to continue supporting valuable research. It can increase the likelihood that a history major can get a job in a variety of fields by displaying their analytical, observational, and communicative skills. Historians just have to approach this study not by telling our students what happened, but instead by setting up an experiment where together they can understand what happened and why.”

“The Case for Applied History” (2020)

Iskander Rehman

Published online for AFPC here.

“….This is where applied history, with its prudential rejection of presentism, teleological certainty, and overweening positivism, can prove most useful. It furnishes a healthy skepticism in the face of those who, starting from grand theories or first principles, are determined to engineer tidy sets of explanations applicable across all circumstances. It recognizes that threads of wisdom are woven throughout the tapestry of history, and that our epoch is not necessarily more complex, unique or enlightened than any other….” 

“The Case for Applied History: Can the Study of the Past Really Help Us to Understand the Present?” (2018)

Robert Crowcroft

Published online in History Today vol. 68, no. 9 (September, 2018) here.

“Given that history is so policy-relevant, the scepticism of the majority of professionals about ‘applied history’ is a shame. First, it displays a lack of awareness of the provenance of the discipline. Second, it implies a misunderstanding of causation – the very thing that historians are supposed to be specialists in. If one makes a claim to expertise in cause and effect, one should be trained to discern patterns and project trends forward. Third, it disregards what the public want from their historians (who they largely fund): a willingness to tackle big problems. Finally, the professional wariness about the ‘relevance’ of history is arguably one important reason why thousands of university students fret that their history degree will prove ‘useless’.”

History and Health Policy in the United States: Putting the Past Back in (2006)

Edited by Rosemary A. StevensCharles E. RosenbergLawton R. Burns 

In our rapidly advancing scientific and technological world, many take great pride and comfort in believing that we are on the threshold of new ways of thinking, living, and understanding ourselves. But despite dramatic discoveries that appear in every way to herald the future, legacies still carry great weight. Even in swiftly developing fields such as health and medicine, most systems and policies embody a sequence of earlier ideas and preexisting patterns.

In History and Health Policy in the United States, seventeen leading scholars of history, the history of medicine, bioethics, law, health policy, sociology, and organizational theory make the case for the usefulness of history in evaluating and formulating health policy today. In looking at issues as varied as the consumer economy, risk, and the plight of the uninsured, the contributors uncover the often unstated assumptions that shape the way we think about technology, the role of government, and contemporary medicine. They show how historical perspectives can help policymakers avoid the pitfalls of partisan, outdated, or merely fashionable approaches, as well as how knowledge of previous systems can offer alternatives when policy directions seem unclear.

Together, the essays argue that it is only by knowing where we have been that we can begin to understand health services today or speculate on policies for tomorrow.

Publisher website here.

History, Historians and Development Policy: A Necessary Dialogue (2011)

Editors: C. A. BaylyVijayendra RaoSimon Szreter, and Michael Woolcock

The substantive and methodological contributions of professional historians to development policy debates was marginal, whether because of the dominance of economists or the inability of historians to contribute. There are broadly three ways in which history matters for development policy. These include insistence on the methodological principles of respect for context, process and difference; history is a resource of critical and reflective self-awareness about the nature of the discipline of development itself; and history brings a particular kind of perspective to development problems . After establishing the key issues, this book explores the broad theme of the institutional origins of economic development, focusing on the cases of nineteenth-century India and Africa. It demonstrates that scholarship on the origins of industrialisation in England in the late eighteenth century suggests a gestation reaching back to a period during which a series of social institutional innovations were pioneered and extended to most citizens of England. The book examines a paradox in China where an emphasis on human welfare characterized the rule of the eighteenth-century Qing dynasty, and has been demonstrated in modern-day China’s emphasis on health and education. It provides a discussion on the history of the relationship between ideology and policy in public health, sanitation in India’s modern history and the poor health of Native Americans. The book unpacks the origins of public education, with a focus on the emergency of mass literacy in Victorian England and excavates the processes by which colonial education was indigenized throughout South-East Asia.

Publisher website here.

The Politics of Expertise – How NGOs Shaped Modern Britain (2013)

Matthew Hilton, James McKay, Nicholas Crowson, and Jean-François Mouhot

The Politics of Expertise offers a challenging new interpretation of politics in contemporary Britain, through an examination of non-governmental organisations. Using specific case studies of the homelessness, environment, and international aid and development sectors, it demonstrates how politics and political activism has changed over the last half century. NGOs have contributed enormously to a professionalisation and a privatization of politics, emerging as a new form of expert knowledge and political participation. They have been led by a new breed of non-party politician, working in collaboration and in competition with government. Skilful navigators of the modern technocratic state, they have brought expertise to expertise and, in so doing, have changed the nature of grassroots activism. As affluent citizens have felt marginalised by the increasingly complex nature of many policy solutions, they have made the rational calculation to support NGOs, the professionalism and resources of which make them better able to tackle complex problems. Yet in doing so, support rather than participation becomes the more appropriate way to describe the relationship of the public to NGOs. As voter turnout has declined, membership and trust in NGOs has increased. But NGOs are very different types of organisations from the classic democratic institutions of political parties and the labour movement. They maintain different and varied relationships with the publics they seek to represent. Attracting mass support has provided them with the resources and the legitimacy to speak to power on a bewildering range of issues, yet perhaps the ultimate victors in this new form of politics are the NGOs themselves.

Publisher website here.

Transport Policy: Learning Lessons from History (2016)

Colin Divall & Julian Hine

The key aim of this volume is to demonstrate ways in which an understanding of history can be used to inform present-day transport and mobility policies. This is not to say that history repeats itself, or that every contemporary transport dilemma has an historical counterpart: rather, the contributors to this book argue that in many contexts of transport planning a better understanding of the context and consequences of past decisions and processes could lead to more effective policy decisions. Collectively the authors explore the ways in which the methods and approaches of historical research may be applied to contemporary transport and policy issues across a wide range of transport modes and contexts. By linking two bodies of academic research that for the most part remain separate this volume helps to inform current transport and mobility policies and to stimulate innovative new research that links studies of both past and present mobilities.

publisher website is here.

History, Policy and Public Purpose: Historians and Historical Thinking in Government (2016)

Alix R. Green

This book takes a fresh look at the connection between history and policy, proposing that historians rediscover a sense of ‘public purpose’ that can embrace political decision-making – and also enhance historical practice. Making policy is a complex and messy affair, calling on many different forms of expertise and historians have often been reluctant to get involved in policy advice, with those interested in ‘history in public’ tending to work with museums, heritage sites, broadcasters and community organisations. Green notes, however, that historians have also insisted that ‘history matters’ in public policy debate, and been critical of politicians’ distortions or neglect of the past. She argues that it is not possible to have it both ways.

Publisher website is here.