The Uses and Misuses of the American Past

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: Blåsenhus Building 11, room 128
  • Lecturer: Professor Fredrik Logevall, Harvard University
  • Organiser: Swedish Insitute for North American Studies
  • Contact person: Dag Blanck
  • Phone: 0701480217
  • Föreläsning

In this seminar we’ll explore this connection between history and policy, with particular emphasis on U.S. diplomacy in the middle decades of the 20th century. Along the way, we’ll consider the degree to which history can be “applied,” that is, the degree to which it illuminates contemporary challenges and choices.

Like leaders elsewhere, U.S. presidents and their subordinates rely on historical reasoning in making and justifying policy. By and large, however, they use history poorly, seizing hold of the first analogy that comes to mind, without subjecting it to close scrutiny or considering alternatives. For the historian seeking to understand this dynamic, the matter is further complicated by a question that is very difficult to answer, even with broad access to the archives: Is the history invoked really the source of the policy, or is it the source of arguments designed to vindicate policies adopted for antecedent reasons?