Stanford Applied History Conference

31 03 2018


The academic internet was recently ablaze with controversy about a conference on “Applied History” that took place at Stanford (see here, here, and here). The point of this conference was to showcase historical research that can inform policymaking, particularly the making of (US) geo-political strategy.

The conference organizers were criticized for a list of speakers that was almost exclusively male and exclusively white. Journalists at the New York Times picked up on the story and asked the main organizer, Niall Ferguson, about the lack of racial and gender diversity at the conference.

The concerns about the lack of gender and racial diversity are important and suggest that there is a need to encourage more female grad students to do historical research in areas that are relevant to the making of grand strategy. The fact that the academics at the conference are overwhelmingly based at US universities, which is even more problematic than the lack of gender and racial diversity, went un-discussed by the US academics and journalists who covered the story. However, my main problem with the Applied History is that all but one of the sessions was prescriptive and involved academics dispensing advice to policymakers rather than discussing how policymakers use history. I see from the programme that there was a lunch-time discussion with Philip Zelikow and Robert Zoellick on the subject of “Applied History in Washington since c. 2000”. Now that session would be really interesting to me, because it would involve people who are embedded within the Beltway sharing their observations about how history is being used and perhaps misused by policymakers.


So much important research has been done on how policymakers use (and misuse) historical analogy and historical knowledge. I’m thinking of the work of Khong, Jervis, and many other political scientists. There is also the historian Alix Green in this country, who has studied how historical knowledge is used in Whitehall. It is such a shame that none of these researchers were at the conference.

I am sharing the conference programme below

Day One—Friday, March 2, 2018


Breakfast and registration
Welcome and opening remarks
Niall Ferguson
Session 1: Undead Rome: the Decline, Fall and Afterlives of the Roman Empire?

Presenter: Tom Holland
Commentator: Peter Frankopan
Chair: Niall Ferguson
Session 2:Is Trumpism Merely Populism revisited?

Presenter: Eric Rauchway
Commentator: Daniel Sargent
Chair: Niall Ferguson
Session 3: The China Story

Presenter: Frank Dikötter
Commentator: Arne Westad
Chair: Robert Zoellick
Discussion with Aaron O’Connell and Fredrik Logevall: Déjà Vu All Over Again? Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Search for Lessons in History

Chair: Graham Allison
Session 4: The Ecological Origins of Economic and Political Systems

Presenter: Stephen Haber
Commentator: Ian Morris
Chair: Peter Frankopan
Session 5: Kicking Away the Ladder? Cryptocurrencies in Historical Perspective

Presenter: Tyler Goodspeed
Commentator: Barry Eichengreen
Chair: Michael Bordo
Tour of Hoover Archives
Eric Wakin
Session 6: Is Putin’s Russia a Potemkin Power? Leadership, Succession and Russian Foreign Policy

Presenter: Christopher Miller
Commentator: Stephen Kotkin
Chair: Amir Weiner


Day Two—Saturday, March 3, 2018


Session 7: The History of the Future

Presenter: Matthew Connelly
Commentator: Christopher Clark
Chair: Mary Sarotte
Session 8: Thinking Historically: A Cold War Historian’s Reflection on Policy

Presenter: Francis Gavin
Commentator: Marc Trachtenberg
Chair: Arne Westad
Session 9: How Might 21st-Century Deglobalization Unfold?

Presenter: Stefan Link
Commentator: Norman Naimark
Chair: Marc Trachtenberg
Session 10: Same As It Ever Was: The History of Inequality and Mobility

Presenter: Gregory Clark
Commentator: Glen O’Hara
Chair: Harold James
Discussion with Philip Zelikow and Robert Zoellick: Applied History in Washington since c. 2000
Session 11: Wine and Winning: From Muhammad to the Islamic State, a Tangled Relationship

Presenter: David Cook
Commentator: Emile Simpson
Chair: Sean McMeekin
Session 12: Defeating an Idea: What the Cold War Can Teach Us About How States Fight Ideologies

Presenter: Jeremy Friedman
Commentator: John Bew
Chair: Philip Zelikow




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