history matters

History Matters – Pass it on looks like a good campaign to me, even if the people who wrote the text for the website think Tony Benn is still an MP, and can’t spell the name of one of their founder supporters*.

I was never one for the Kings and Queens approach – I was never any good at remembering dates – but it does strike me that the campaign are right to say:

a society out of touch with its past cannot have confidence in its future. History helps us to know where we come from and to explain the world as it is.  

Unfortunately the campaign’s website is a bit light on specific arguments about why we ought to care about history which is why I’m grateful to Robert Cooper – who used to work for the Prime Minister and now advises Javier Solana.  

Cooper wrote an article for Prospect in which he says:

Most politics is a matter of trial and error. You try something; if it works you carry on, if it fails you try something else. Usually the trial is based on some theory. Intelligent policymakers will test the theory against reality in a small way before making a big bet on it.

Foreign policy is more difficult. It consists of a series of one-off problems, and you do not get a choice about whether they are big or small. Even after the event it may not be clear whether you did right or wrong….

The only material we have to work on when we make decisions in foreign policy is history

He does go on to say that he doesn’t think history is much help, but if its the tool you’ve got then valuing it might make some sense.

Further reading – The QCA have a site for history teachers.

*I am of course a pot calling a kettle black.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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