Tuesday, November 17, 2015

History Manifesto

David Armitage and Jo Guldi published History Manifesto online and in print in October 2014. Writing in the context of contemporary ‘policy stalemates’ related to climate change, the authors examined the capcity of history to identify and construct ‘vectors of reform’ and to ‘expand our sense of options for the future’. ‘Historical reasoning… lays a path’, they argued, between the climate-determinism of the sciences and the economic vision of continuous technological innovation and growth.

So what is historical reasoning? Armitage and Guldi write of history’s power to:
·      Understand cultural bias and explain where things come from
·      Compare various kinds of data, even when they come from radically different sources
·      Frame questions more and more broadly, track between big processes and small events, and discern (and rank) multiple sources of causality.
·      Synthesise and arbitrate (i.e. reduce a lot of information to a small and shareable version)

Ultimately, Armitage and Guldi define history as a tool of social and political reform with the capacity to:
·      Speak back to the institutions of governance
·      Cut through the fundamentalisms of scientists and economists
·      Destabilise the neo-liberal story that a free market will automatically produce new forms of technology that will ameliorate the worst effects of climate change

Most importantly, history provides a means to ‘escape the conceptual fetters of the present moment’ and to shape an alternative, democratic future. They write:
The possibility of conceiving of a reform tradition is of vital importance for sustained engagement with agriculture and climate change at any level other than that of professional economics or climate science.

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