In the last few years, the notion of applied history has seen a notable rise in interest among historians. Arising out of questions related to contemporary concerns, such as political extremism and Covid-19, several projects have taken up the challenge to address these questions and other issues by looking to the past, thereby furthering the idea that applied history warrants the attention of professional (academic) historians. The concept of applied history itself is, however, not new, begging questions of how these new projects use the term and how this usage relates to older definitions and methods associated with the term. This article shows that much of the most recent ‘wave’ of applied history has tended to present itself as closely related to history and policy, distinguishing itself by either drawing a hard line between public and applied history or by ignoring public history altogether. On the other hand, some have defined applied history as an approach or sub-field of public history, sometimes leading public historians to assume that these new groups are merely, and unhelpfully, putting a new logo on an old brand. This article offers a thorough overview of these contending developments and argues that the current conceptual and methodological confusion about applied history is detrimental to anyone relying on the term. Essentially, when a non-historian seeks the assistance of an applied historian and asks the logical question “and what do you do, exactly?,” the current uncertainty can result in major and off-putting confusion about what the term actually means.
Funding source: Research Foundation Flanders - FWO
Award Identifier / Grant number: SBO project S003419N
Research funding: This work was supported by Research Foundation Flanders - FWO (Award No. SBO project S003419N).
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