Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Usefulness of History

Over the holiday break, while languishing at my step daughter's house, I watched two series on Netflix, Wentworth, an Australian women's prison series a la Orange Is the New Black (only better), and Jericho. In one scene in Jericho, a schoolteacher (Emily Sullivan played by Ashley Scott) tries to motivate students to study history but almost all of them leave once they discover that school attendance is no longer mandatory in post-apocalyptic western Kansas. Making candles in the bathtub, as one of the students claimed he would do in lieu of class, may have been more important at that moment but a society that forgets its past is doomed to suffer costly calamities. I won't roll out the usual litany of pro-history quotations here but instead will point to the use of history in public policy, specifically my chapter on the history of chartermongering (attracting charter fees from out-of-state corporations) by South Dakota and its influence on the state's current chartermongering efforts as reported today (5 January 2015) in the Rapid City Journal in the article by Seth Tupper called "Look Out Delaware."

History can also help policymakers with a wide range of other issues, including preventing asset bubbles and reducing the incidence of modern day slavery. That is why I accepted the offer to edit a monograph series published by Cambridge University Press and sponsored by Historians Against Slavery that aims to use historical insights to help to fight slavery, which is still widespread today. The first three volumes in the new series, Slavery Since Emancipation, are under contract and will be appearing over the next few years,with more surely to follow.

So (until the EMP anyway) the next time you feel like making bathtub candles (or wasting time some other way), read a good history book instead! Here is a great place to start.

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