Historical expertise and political reality
On January 15, the first day of the 11th Gaidar Forum at the Russian Presidential Academy, speakers discussed how historians can influence political decisions domestically and internationally during the session “Do politicians need history advisers?”
The discussion was moderated by Sergei Zuyev, Director of RANEPA Institute for Social Sciences (ISS). The participants spoke about the importance of historians’ expertise in shaping the political picture and in understanding the basic sociopolitical, economic and cultural laws and phenomena of our time.
Oxford University Professor David Priestland focused on applied history in his report. In his opinion, today historians are losing the influence that they used to have in the past, while attention is being shifted to the economic sphere, which is thought to be crucial for improving people’s lives. Citing the 2003 invasion of Iraq as an example, Priestland explained that specialists need to turn to applied history to provide advice and act as a link between politicians and history theorists.
Yuri Slezkine, Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley, showed a map of historical communities on a modern political map of the world, dividing the globe into several groups – countries exploring their own history; countries exploring the historical past of a few others; and countries trying to “seize the unseizable,” those who study their own history as well as the past of most other countries. Their interest in historical references is dictated by the current global situation and the complication of international relations.
“Historians are everywhere. If there is a state, it may not have an army, but there are schools where they teach history, which means there are teachers,” Dr. Slezkine, the author of “The House of Government” – a popular study in Russia – believes.
Yale University Professor David Engerman added that the role of social sciences in the political sphere is increasing day by day. Politicians need to know how to use facts from social sciences while addressing modern problems based on past events, not limit themselves by the economic sphere and its forecasts, Engelman believes.
However, the expert said, varying interpretations of historical information are unacceptable; only a change in approach to established data. “We don’t need more history advisers; we need more history teachers for politicians.”
According to Georgi Derluguian, Professor at New York University in Abu Dhabi, at the end of the 20th century, economists began providing history advice to politicians, supplying answers to current questions, while the last time the decision-makers studied history was at school.
The experts participating in the discussion agreed that historians need to participate in political debate and give advice to governments. They urged their colleagues to get more involved in writing history schoolbooks, which would convey reliable knowledge of history to future generations.
On the same day, President of Russia Vladimir Putin in his Address to the Federal Assembly spoke about the need to uphold the historical truth about the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945.
The Gaidar Forum is held at the Presidential Academy under the auspices of the Government of the Russian Federation. Over 11 years, it has become one of the most respected expert platforms that traditionally determine the vector for public and academic discussion.
11th Gaidar Forum Organizers:
The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA); The Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy (Gaidar Institute); The Association of Innovative Regions of Russia (AIRR).
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