Workshops and History Labs

From interactive workshops at HM Treasury and the Airports Commission, and a History Lab for Civil Service Learning, H&P is experimenting with innovative event formats that enable policy makers to engage more deeply with history.


A ‘History Lab’ for the Policy Profession Support Unit on 10 November 2014 explored the lessons of the British railways, 1955-1975. The event was part of the Policy Profession’s Knowledge Series, which seeks to bring to bear a wide variety of inputs and influences on policy making.

Colin Divall, Professor of Railway Studies at the University of York, and Dr Charles Loft, transport policy adviser at the Local Government Association, facilitated the History Lab, which asked the overarching question: have we learnt from Beeching?

22 civil servants from HM Treasury, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, and the Rail Executive heard Professor Divall and Dr Loft outline the political and economic factors framing infrastructure policy at the time and the 1963 Beeching Report.

Participants then split into groups to consider two case studies that suffered different fates under Beeching’s axe: Bournemouth and the Varsity route. Civil servants used a variety of documents, from ministerial correspondence, committee minutes, local authority submissions, and newspaper reports, to understand the many factors affecting decisions at the time, and to draw out any lessons for infrastructure policy making today.

Feedback about the History Lab from civil servants was excellent: 100% agreed it was ‘extremely’ or ‘very good'. Before the event 64% said their knowledge of the topic ranged from poor to average. Afterwards, 95% rated their knowledge as ‘good’ or ‘extremely good.’ Among the comments:

Excellent interactive session - really made us think.

Really like the concept of bringing historical analysis to bear on current problems - hope to see more such events.

Director General of the Rail Executive at the Department for Transport, Clare Moriarty welcomed the H&P History Lab: 

I am absolutely passionate about learning from history and believe historical analogy can help us to formulate better policy.

More History Labs are planned as part of the Policy Profession Knowledge Series, run by the Policy Profession Support Unit as part of the government's commitment to bring a range of disciplines and inputs to bear on policy making. 

See Professor Divall's presentation: http://www.historyandpolicy.org/img/news/uploads/cdivall_bournemouth.pdf

See Dr Loft's presentation: http://www.historyandpolicy.org/img/news/uploads/CLoft_infrastructure_policy_pdf.pdf

About Us


With long-established offices in King's College London and the University of Cambridge, H&P is an expanding Partnership currently supported by 6 Higher Education Institutes: King’s College London, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, The University of Edinburgh, University of Leeds, 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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