Should Historians Comment on Current Affairs?

19 08 2011

Historian David Starkey, who is an expert on the Tudor period, recently went on TV and made some comments about the recent riots in English cities that were condemned by others as racist. His comments prompted calls for historians to stick to what they know and not get involved in current affairs.

Pat Thane, who is a social historian and one of the directors of the History & Policy group  at King’s College London recently published a robust defence of the engagement of historians with questions of present-day public policy.

As Thane notes, the History & Policy website

was established to mobilise historians with appropriate expertise to engage with and comment on current policy issues.

With a network of over 300 historians, we specifically try to put journalists and policymakers in touch with the right historian, to address the right issue, with the right knowledge at the right time. Hopefully, some of the policy areas under review following the riots will benefit from historical input and maybe even avoid falling prey to inaccurate historical assumptions and reinventing the policy wheel.