History is in the past: the social relevance of historical research

In scholarly research, it is possible to construct a world out of your towers of books, built on a foundation of statistics and references. We can create distance between the scholar and the subject. We risk writing for and about, rather than with. Replacing voices with our own.

As historians, we have the privileged power of hindsight. We are able to label actions and events as causes and consequences, trace narrative threads that were invisible to contemporary actors. This can add another layer of distance. Another filter on our perspective, coloured by what we know happened afterwards, events these actors could only speculate about.

Yet scholarly work is obviously invaluable and the social relevance of historical research is crucial. The advantage hindsight gives us the possibility of predicting the future. R. G. Collingwood wrote “nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done”. Nuanced and thoughtful historical perspectives are one way to form positive and effective policy.

What use is the world of theory if it does not intersect with a world of action?

The Women, Work and Value workshop, that took place on Monday 25th April, aimed to address this issue of distance. Set up as a knowledge exchange between scholars and experts in the field of care, the event took steps to bridge potential gaps between these groups. It aimed to bring scholarly and historical research into line and into conversation with the work of social actors.

Helen McCarthy from History and Policy discussed the importance of conveying historical work effectively and creatively to politicians and civil servants. A running theme throughout the workshop was the idea that scholars and experts from NGOS and non-profits organisations must work together. Only then can we put forward strong cases for effective policy change.

The importance of this kind of collaboration is becoming more and more visible and is a central pillar of feminist research. In June, the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow is putting on a similar knowledge exchange, also aiming to connect scholars and practitioners working on in the field of care and the care economy.

joint poster

For more information about the event and how to attend, contact Dr Valerie Wright at the University of Glasgow: Valerie.Wright.2@glasgow.ac.uk

 

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

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