The History Woman's Blog

Early Modern Political Thought and Twenty-First-Century Politics

Posted in Academia, Conferences, Early Modern, Political Thought, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on June 2, 2018

earlymodernpoliticalthoughtworkshopI love Newcastle and the Lit&Phil, and this workshop on Early Modern Political Thought and Twenty-First-Century Politics in mid-May was probably one of the most fun public history events I have yet participated in.

Rachel Hammersley managed to get together a panel of early modern historians who all had something to say about how the past might speak to the present: John Rees talked about the Putney Debates, in which the Levellers laid out their ideas for a widening of the franchise and accountable government.

Ann Hughes talked about religious toleration then and now, providing much food for thought with her comment that people were usually happy to tolerate things they did not care about. Strict protestants in the seventeenth century meanwhile were more likely to subscribe to the concept of ‘charitable hatred’ (Alexandra Walsham), trying to convince their neighbours of religious truth, as they saw it, for their own good.

Ariel Hessayon talked about the impact of environmental issues on politics and society, asking the question to what extent the Little Ice Age of the early modern period might have contributed to political insecurity and conflict.

My own presentation on two English republican exiles in Europe during the Restoration period meanwhile, aimed to draw parallels to more recent and current political exiles, such as Bertolt Brecht fleeing the Nazis, or the former president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont escaping the Spanish authorities who accuse him of rebellion and misuse of public funds. At the time this blog post was written, the decision of the authorities in Germany on whether or not to extradite Puigdemont to Spain had not been taken.

ouseburnmural

Me, Ann Hughes, John Rees and Ariel Hessayon in front of a mural in the Ouseburn.

There is no need for me to repeat what was being said at the workshop. Both Rachel and Liam Temple have produced excellent summaries of the event, audio files and all.

I just wanted to say what an amazing evening it was debating with my colleagues and members of the audience about political participation at a venue created in the spirit of the Enlightenment and being part of that critical public that should never shut up.

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Historians and the Fifth Estate

Posted in Academia, Comment, History, Journalism, Politics by thehistorywoman on August 6, 2016

IMG_0158Historians should get more actively involved in shaping policy, in particular foreign and defence policy. That is the gist of a recent call by Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson in The Atlantic for a Council of Historians to be established in the US.

Taking advice from historians, they suggest, could have helped President George W. Bush in 2003 to appreciate ‘the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims or the significance of the fact that Saddam’s regime was led by a Sunni minority that had suppressed the Shiite majority’. It might even have prevented Bush from choosing to topple Saddam Hussein and leaving us with a great mess in the Middle East.

Allison and Ferguson also suggest, historians could have helped Barack Obama appreciate ‘the deep historical relationship between Russia and Ukraine’ and consequently ‘the risks of closer ties between Ukraine and Europe’, before Russia went to annex Crimea.

Applied History 

The political scientist Allison has long been involved in US policy making as an analyst, consultant and advisor, and his push for a Council of Historians is no doubt influenced or given additional urgency by a real fear that Donald Trump could win the US presidential election and embark on a wrong-headed and dangerous mission to ‘make America great again’.  Together with the British historian Ferguson, Allison co-directs the Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project, so, it should be added, they are promoting their own work.

Now, I’m not normally known for agreeing with Niall Ferguson or the advice he has chosen to give to the UK Education Department for that matter, but I do think the two scholars have a point. It is essential for politicians to be aware of the historical complexities of the issues they are faced with, and they need historical experts to help them respond to those issues in an appropriate way. (more…)