The past few years, the field of applied history has witnessed the publication of several manifestoes, the establishment of dedicated research centers, and the foundation of an academic journal. Conceptual discussions about the notion of applied history and the very fact that the methods and techniques of applied history are now part of the discipline of history provide further evidence of the field’s maturity. By offering an historiographical overview tracing the roots of applied history, this article will show that both discussions about the contemporary relevance and application of historical thinking, and the actual application of history to current events, possess a long history: applied history has been part and parcel of history writing since ancient times. Moreover, the article offers a discussion of recent debates about the concept and methods of applied history and concludes by mapping the trends that are shaping its current development.
Polarization is a critical problem confronting American politics and society today. The history of the Netherlands serves as both a warning and an opportunity for the United States in its quest to solve pernicious partisanship. The eighteenth-century Dutch Republic demonstrates how continued division without compromise can easily lead to revolution and civil war. In contrast, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of the Netherlands show how a pluralist political culture created a society of compromise and tolerance. This article suggests several ways in which the United States can start to create a similar society of E pluribus unum and mitigate some of the effects of polarization in contemporary American politics.
This article considers Northern Ireland’s history of conflict through a lens that emphasizes conciliation over conflict. It demonstrates how numerous state, social and economic groups actively attempted to avoid, rectify or oppose Northern Ireland’s conflict. In doing so, the article argues that long before (and after) the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was reached subtle changes at the societal level helped both restrain and later ameliorate the conflict there. This emphasis questions the utility of more (para)militarized histories of Northern Ireland’s Troubles by seeing the peace process as the growth of conciliation rather than the attenuation of violence. Applying this to what is widely regarded as the polarization of politics in the contemporary United States, the article highlights how the emphasis on violent events in the public mind can actively obscure a more consistent, if gradual, current flowing in a different direction.
Protests against racism erupt in cities across America. A White House, under siege, believes a vast conspiracy is at work, and, to uncover it, instigates a policy to spy on Americans. This is not the United States in 2020, but half a century earlier. Using a wealth of declassified records, this article explores a domestic intelligence collection program (CHAOS) instigated by two successive US administrations and conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By studying this historical chapter, we observe how quickly an agency, equipped with intrusive powers, can infringe on Americans’ civil liberties when tasked by a US president. Applying this case to our contemporary context, this article argues that robust whistleblower procedures, as well as informal oversight, are powerful defenses against such abuses. Understanding why CHAOS occurred is an essential public policy first step to prevent similar abuses happening again.
The last four years have not only witnessed the largest domestic protests in U.S. history, but the steady polarization of U.S. politics has been a widening trend for decades. Policymakers eager to heal the country can learn from history. The Progressive Era offers one big idea to reduce division: public education. A robust educational system undergirds progress, stability, and unity, and it enables follow-on opportunities of social reform and equality. The Progressive Era’s laudable expansion of public education also, however, reversed progress on racial equality and neglected to resolve an inflammatory media, mistakes that have contributed to today’s division. Learning from the successes and failures of one of the most ambitious Progressive Era programs presents the United States with one path forward to solving its internal turmoil.