Workshop 12 March: Applied History with Beatrice de Graaf, Stefan Couperus and Harm Kaal

The Research School Political History offers a workshop on applied history, especially for students in the second year of their PhD, but other students and research masters may apply as well.

The workshop will take place online on Friday 12 March 2021, 12.15-14.15 and will be hosted by prof.dr. Beatrice de Graaf (UU), dr. Stefan Couperus (RUG) and dr. Harm Kaal (RU).

Participants need to register at before 6 March 2021.

In her introductory talk professor De Graaf will reflect on the various roles of historians in public debate and commissioned research projects, based on recent experiences with commissioned work herself, for example in the committee for Intercountry Adoption. Which skills and insights do historians bring to the table? Where to draw the line between (applied) historical research and policy recommendations or political interpretations? This will be followed by a plenary discussion about how students see their own role as historians outside of academia and in the public sphere. The discussion will be guided by prepared statements. The final part of our interactive workshop is dedicated to a discussion of applied history, again based on students’ prepared notes.

Assignment 1: the public historian outside of academia

The current climate of polarized public debate prompts a reflection on how you, as a historian, want to position yourself in this, being informed by academic (historical) knowledge and skills. A historian’s presence in the public sphere might be subsumed under a range of “registers” or “personae”. One can take an activist, political and critical stance based on one’s expertise, stick to a more reflective scholarly persona stressing one’s role as an academic historian, become actively involved in commissioned research and related policy discussions or reach out to the broader public by popularizing historical research. Which of these (or other) registers or personae would you prefer and why? In all of these cases academic historians find themselves in a context in which they have to negotiate and/or cross the boundaries between “academia” and “the world beyond”. Which risks are involved in taking a more public role (by engaging with public debate in (digital) media, be it by writing op-ed, by joining a policy council or publishing a popular article, among others) and how do you see yourself dealing with those risks?

Write a short statement (no more than 1 A4) in preparation for the discussions during the workshop in which you reflect on these questions. For inspiration, one could browse through the Twitter timeline or op-eds of historians like Mary Beard, Niall Ferguson, Leo Lucassen, Beatrice de Graaf, Karwan Fatah-Black, Geerten Waling, Olivette Otele, Anton Jäger, Henry Rousso, Simon Schama, Timothy Snyder, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Barbara Engelking, Samuel Moyn and many more.

Assignment 2: applied history

In Belgium and the Netherlands applied history (finally) seems to be finding its momentum. Leuven-based historians recently initiated Corvus Historical Consultancy and in the Netherlands historians across Dutch universities supported an ‘applied history manifesto’ (in Dutch) published in NRC-Handelsblad in May 2020. Recently, Utrecht University launched the Klimaat Helpdesk for which historians have provided instrumental input. In 2019, Dutch historians launched an academic journal dedicated to applied history published by Brill. Historians in the Low Countries are drawing inspiration from examples in the USA and Britain, among others. In the USA the Belfer Center at Harvard University is leading the way (Allison & Ferguson, 2016), in Britain back in 2002 Cambridge historians founded the platform. Moreover, academic historians have become accustomed to writing ‘knowledge utilisation paragraphs’ as part of their applications for NWO and FWO funding. This workshop helps you to position yourself in this context and make the case for the added value of the skills, knowledge and insights you, as a historian and expert, bring to the table.

Based on the reading for this workshop, we ask you to write a short paper (800-1000 words) in which you discuss the following questions.

  • how could I bring the results of my historical research to bear on contemporary problems and challenges?
  • who would my target audience/public be and how could I reach them?
  • which skills, knowledge and insights do I as a historian bring in?
  • and how do I convince others of the value of these skills, knowledge insights?
  • in what terms can I best articulate the societal impact of my findings (e.g. knowledge application, contribute (contextual) understanding, provide a new perspective)?

Please send both assignments to and by Tuesday 9 March.

Requirements and credits

1 EC: Preparing assignments and presentations for the workshop; active participation in the discussion.


Allison, Graham & Niall Ferguson (2016). Applied history manifesto!manifesto

Corvus (2021). Applied History. A Corvus Working Definition

Crowcroft, Robert (2018). The Case for Applied History. Can the study of the past really help us to understand the present?, History Today  68:9.

Guldi, J., & D. Armitage (2014). Introduction. In: Guldi & Armitage, The History Manifesto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-13.

Mukharji, A., & R. Zeckhauser(2019). Bound to Happen: Explanation Bias in Historical Analysis, Journal of Applied History 1:1-2, pp. 5-27.

in Dutch: