The Historian-Advocate Question

By Peter Daniel Haworth for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

My friend, Nathan Coleman, introduced me to this post on the question of historians advocating policy. If historians feel compelled to enter into public policy advocacy, maybe they should view themselves as explicitly engaging in two different functions– i.e., adopting a professional dualism. When speaking as a historian, they should NOT advocate public policy due to the problems mentioned in the article. Since, however, historians have knowledge, imagination, and (hopefully) humility derived from wrestling with historical nuances, they also might be uniquely qualified to function as public policy analysts who derive and advocate important conclusions. Nevertheless, when functioning as such an advocate, the historian should make clear that he or she is no longer functioning as a historian. This resolution might be a semantical distinction that is practically difficult to implement, but even just attempting this dualism might be a helpful reminder about the sticky problems and limits entailed in interfacing history and policy advocacy.

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