Using History in Public Policy Development
Green, Alix Rivka
This thesis addresses two key problems: that historical practice in the academy is largely disengaged from politics as a domain of public purpose and that policymaking remains fixed on a very narrow (and quantitative) definition of evidence, although the “policy-relevant” disciplines have not proved able to solve long-standing policy issues. It inspects both phenomena with the aim of describing the space in which the two problems can be brought into a workable accommodation. The argument is made that public policy should be regarded as an important concern of academic history, and policymakers themselves as people with legitimate interests that historians should take seriously. Public history provides a helpful framework and set of concerns to work with in this respect. Given that the social and natural sciences have not been able to solve the pressing policy problems with which governments are faced, a certain obligation may be claimed for historians to reconsider their stance. The re-connection of history and policy – the nineteenth-century discipline clearly discerned a public-political purpose for history – requires attention to be given to articulating and demonstrating the distinctive cognitive tools of the historian and their distinctive value to the policymaking process. The thesis addresses two primary fields, whose interests and professional practices appear divergent such that both the principles and the terms of collaboration are difficult to imagine: academic history and government policymaking. The primary material on which the research draws is accordingly the products of these constituencies: works of historiography and policy documents of various kinds. Also of relevance are commentaries and analyses that address these domains, whether from other disciplines with an interest in political decision-making, from the media or from other organisations with a professional stake, such as think tanks. The originality of the research lies in conceiving of the question of the uses of history for public policy as one of integration of “supply” and “demand” perspectives. It seeks clarity on the distinctive value of historical skills and approaches, but not as an end in itself. Rather, the case is assembled for the affinities between history and policy as processes and hence that the two can be brought into a productive alignment. So, instead of history providing pre-packaged accounts for policy, it can be embedded as a way of thinking and reasoning in policy.