Why History Matters 

By Professor Claire Langhamer, Director of the IHR

History today is challenging, complex, and creative; it is collaborative, energetic and purposeful. In a world that stumbles from crisis to crisis, historical analysis is more critical than ever before. Only by understanding the past can we make sense of the present or have any hope of shaping a better future.

History matters. As the submissions to REF2021 vividly demonstrate, historians across the country, and in diverse institutions, are mobilising their research to change understandings, improve policy and enhance well-being. Historians work collaboratively with galleries, libraries, archives and museums to shape interpretations and increase engagement; with governmental and non-governmental organisations to inform policy and produce policy-related knowledge; with schools on curriculum development, new resources and professional training; and with diverse bodies concerned with social welfare, health, and civil and human rights.

 

The long read

High noon for the cowboy historians

By Professor Philip Murphy, Director of History & Policy 

Intellectually, we are all aware of the pitfalls of using history to guide policy and political strategy. The past doesn’t repeat itself and historians thrive on dispute and debate, making it almost impossible for policy-makers to look to them for consistent and unambiguous ‘lessons’ for the future. Historians, too, are wary about playing this game. The Tudor court might, for example, provide clues to how we should interpret the power struggles within Downing Street today; but the danger is that instead of the past illuminating the present, we end up with an anachronistic reading of the past. If we present Thomas Cromwell as a sixteenth century version of Dominic Cummings, we risk misunderstanding them both. 

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