Opinion: should historians comment on current affairs?

Pat Thane, a founder of the History & Policy network, argues that historians can offer valuable input into the debates of the present...

Anti-capitalist graffiti referencing the Nike slogan ‘Just Do It’. Mayday riots, London, 2001. (Photo by PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the October 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight to discuss the urban riots, David Starkey provoked widespread condemnation with his comments about race. He led some commentators to argue that historians should stick to what they know – the past – and leave the present to those better equipped to understand it. Starkey’s intervention may well have brought the profession into disrepute. Some will no doubt argue that historians should maintain a strict separation between academic research and current affairs.

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