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The long past: an antidote to short-termism?

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David Armitage and Jo Guldi’s The History Manifesto called on historians to consider longer periods of time – using the volumes of data available due to the digital revolution - to bring to bear a historical perspective on today’s pressing issues. Civil servants and politicians should think in terms of 500 years rather than five months, they argue. Major policy problems – from climate change and international governance to inequality – are too important for historians to ignore and indeed demand a historical approach.

But how should historians attract decision makers’ attention? ‘Simply addressing topical issues such as climate change is not enough,’ says Professor David Reynolds in his review of The History Manifesto for New Statesman. Politicians operate in time frames determined by electoral cycles and focus on issues amenable to change. ‘They are also busy people who do not have time for lengthy reading and reflection. All this shows that big historical truths must be served up in politically digestible, bite-sized chunks’, he says. 

One solution, both for historians eager for their research to inform policy making and for historically-inclined decision makers, is H&P, says Professor Reynolds, who also cites thinking in time, ‘big history’ and alternative narratives as some of the ways in which today's historians engage with the present. 

David Reynolds' review of The History Manifesto is published in the 23-29 January 2015 edition of New Statesman (subscription required). 

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H&P is an expanding Partnership based at King's College London and the University of Cambridge, and additionally supported by the University of Bristol, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the Open University, and the University of Sheffield.

We are the only project in the UK providing access to an international network of more than 500 historians with a broad range of expertise. H&P offers a range of resources for historians, policy makers and journalists.

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