The role of history and historians in government

by Francesca Beddie.

I believe professional historians can play a more active role in the public policy debate. Many PHA NSW members are working on issues of public interest, for example: social inclusion; migration; native title. Their challenge, along with that of academic historians and those working in the public sector, is to encourage decision makers to include historical analysis in their evidence base. I have written about this before. One of my articles is posted on the Australian History and Policy Network website ( I mention this site to draw attention to the network as a resource for PHA NSW members, both as a repository of information and also a potential outlet forĀ their work.

Professional historiansĀ also have an opportunity to air these matters at the Australian Historical Association conference in Wollongong in July ( ).Ā  PHA NSW will be presenting a panel at the conference titled Public service: the role of history and historians in government. Laila Ellmoos will chair a discussion about issues faced by historians working at Commonwealth, state and local level. I will explore how historical analysis can be useful for national policymakers. Christine Yeats will discuss the role of historians in ensuring sound archival policies and practice across government. Ian Hoskins will talk about the challenges of presenting complex historical narratives to the public. Emma Dortins will show how historians can help provide a sound basis for legislative reform and Caroline Ford will discuss some of the challenges involved in writing government history from the inside.

If PHA NSW membersĀ would like to comment on any of these perspectives, weā€™d be delighted to hear from you. Your insights will certainly enrich the panelā€™s discussion and help us to showcase what professional historians have to offer.

This photograph by Robert-Eede is titled A Very Brief History of Time. I chose it because I think we have to be pragmatic and patient about the influence history can have on policy: one drip at a time.


1 thought on “The role of history and historians in government”

  1. Government has long used photographs to documentand promote what it does. I have looked at what they did with post-war immigration. The National Archives of Australis is also looking at what they did and is organising an exhibition. I think it interesting to compare the uses made by the government- funded collecting agency(working within government) and that of an outsider.
    For what it is worth.

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