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Bridging the Gap between History and Policy

Time is of the essence, both for policymakers and historians, yet in often very different ways and rhythms. Finding common ground between the short-term and long-term approaches is key to making historical thinking more useful and applicable in policy-making. When used cleverly, historical awareness holds great potential for addressing the complexity of the present and for providing creative insights needed in tackling future challenges.

For three days at the beginning of this summer, participants of the first History and Policy-Making course at the GCSP were engaged in vivid discussions about the ways in which understanding the past can help decision-makers shape the future. The course was an integral part of the History and Policy-Making Initiative (HPMI), a joint endeavour of the GCSP and the Graduate Institute, launched in the spring of 2015.

The course was composed of six half-day modules, bringing altogether eleven speakers from various backgrounds into the classroom to share their expertise with the participants. And the exchange was by no means a one-way street, given the impressive scope of expertise the participants themselves could draw from.

Moving from the conceptual introduction to case studies of uses and abuses of history, during the first two days the course also provided fascinating experiences in applying both recent and more distant history to the policy challenges of the present. Geneva-based perspectives on the role of history in international organisations were discussed from a practitioner’s as well as from an academic’s viewpoint.

The third day of the course was opened with innovative approaches to making the connection between history and foresight, with the help of new technology and large datasets. And finally, the concluding discussion was framed by the captivating remarks delivered by GCSP Associate Fellow Adam Rotfeld, the former Polish foreign minister who lately played a decisive role in the landmark project dealing with the difficult matters in Polish-Russian relations of the past century.

Encouraged by this successful first edition of the course, the next version of it is already planned for 2017, as the GCSP prepares the growth of the History and Policy-Making Initiative in its second year. 

>> Learn more about the History and Policy-Making Initiative