Historians of Technology in the Real World: Reflections on the Pursuit of Policy-Oriented History


Despite widespread acceptance of the notion that studies of the past provide tangible benefits, academic historians usually remain reluctant to apply "lessons" from history to the realms of public and business policy. This article suggests reasons for that reluctance while also suggesting that historians of technology can make valuable contributions to the policy community. In particular, these professionals can employ tools and insights developed in their field to highlight the social contexts in which technology evolves, helping decision makers understand why specific policies may or may not accomplish stated goals. The article also suggests means by which historians can influence policy, such as through their teaching, their writing and speaking to lay ! audiences, and their direct participation in government bodies. Due to institutional disincentives for this nontraditional activity, however, historians interested in policy work should already have acquired secure, tenured positions within their academic institutions.