Governments, historians and the lessons of historyA new old idea from Francis Bacon to Brexit

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Sep 2019
View graph of relations
Citation formats


In January 2019 the Chief Executive of the British Academy, the UK’s national body for the study of history, called for the appointment of government departments to appoint chief historical advisers. This, it was argued, would allow policy makers to utilise expert advice derived from the ‘lessons of history’ to improve the decision-making processes. This article examines these proposals in the light of what, in fact, has been a long-standing process of ‘learning’ from history that cuts across cultures, societies and eras. This is undertaken by reference to a number of largely foreign policy case studies – ranging from the Cuban Missile Crisis to post-2001 Afghanistan – where the invocation of the past has been undertaken in order to influence or refine policy choices (sometimes with mixed results). In the light of these examples, the article then considers certain of the implications of the deployment of history for the machinery of the state and of professional historians in policy-relevant roles.


  • History, government, politics, past


  • Governments, historians and the lessons of history: A new old idea from Francis Bacon to Brexit

    Accepted author manuscript, 760 KB, PDF

    Embargo ends: 31 Dec 2099

    Request copy

    Licence: CC0 Show licence