History is the study of people, actions, decisions, interactions, and behaviors. It is so compelling a subject because it encapsulates themes which expose the human condition in all of its guises and that resonate throughout time: power, weakness, corruption, tragedy, triumph … Nowhere are these themes clearer than in political history, still the necessary core of the field and the most meaningful of the myriad approaches to the study of history. Yet political history has fallen out of fashion and subsequently into disrepute, wrongly demonized as stale and irrelevant. The result has been to significantly erode the utility of ordering, explaining and distilling lessons from the past.
History’s primary purpose is to stand at the Centre of diverse, tolerant, intellectually rigorous debate about our existence: our political systems, leadership, society, economy, and culture. However, open, and free debate – as in so many areas of life – is too often lacking and it is not difficult to locate the cause of this intolerance.
Writing history can be a powerful tool; it has shaped identities, particularly at the national level. Moreover, it grants those who control the narrative the ability to legitimize or discredit actions, events, and individuals in the present. Yet to marshal history and send it into battle merely to serve the needs of the present is misuse and abuse. History should never be a weapon at the heart of culture wars. Sadly, once again, it is: clumsily wielded by those who deliberately seek to impose a clear ideological agenda. History is becoming the handmaiden of identity politics and self-flagellation. This only promotes poor, one-dimensional understandings of the past and continually diminishes the utility of the field. History stands at a crossroads; it must refuse to follow the trend of the times.