Winston Churchill thought that those who didn't learn from history were doomed to repeat it. Can we really use history to plan current policy? See below...
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A Personal Note (Archive)
May 11, 2013
A group called History and Policy aims to use history to inform current public policy. It's interesting to ask if this can ever work. History and Policy's efforts are a bit like trying to scientifically assess astrology. At any given moment all the planets are in different places and relationships, making it impossible to isolate and test one planet for its supposed influence, which of course is the basis of the scientific method - isolate one variable and gauge the influence of that single factor alone. Similarly in history we might think we see typical patterns coming round, but it is never possible to isolate one of those patterns. One factor might be in the same sort of position as it was in the past, but so many other associated factors will be different. In this sense history is as good a guide to policy as the astrologers which leaders have historically often consulted. But before we dismiss astrology, and by association history, we should remember that astrology has a very long tradition, longer than any other established religion. From prehistory until the seventeenth century astrologers formed an important part of government. With the rise of science this influence waned dramatically, with various studies showing that astrology had no predictive worth. This did not end astrology's influence entirely, and along with a continuing popular interest, there are examples of modern leaders consulting astrologers - Ronald Reagan is alleged to have done so. Perhaps what history really teaches us is that life is something that is constantly moving and interconnecting, and is reflected best by something you can never really test, and can never really give firm guidance. So if I was looking at history to give guidance on current policy, I would say that History and Policy are court astrologers in a new guise.
Historical news for May
On Thursday 16th May there is a rare opportunity to visit Frogmore House Garden. Frogmore near Windsor has served as a country residence for a number of monarchs since the seventeenth century. All proceeds from the open day will be going to Blind Veterans U.K. For more information and tickets go to http://www.blindveterans.org.uk/frogmoregarden.
Rex Whistler enjoyed a short but exciting artistic career between the war, becoming famous for his murals, stage designs, portraits and book illustrations. This month the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum is staging a major exhibition of Whistler's work. His career and artistic development is illustrated using seventy five pieces of his work. The exhibition runs 24th May - 29th September. Ring 01722 332151
Castles have symbolised the human desire for security over millennia. Cardiff Castle is staging an exhibition of art related to castles, with pictures by a number of artists working between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The exhibition runs 25th May - 29th September. Ring 029 2039 7951.
Crime fiction is one of the most successful genres in modern literature. In 1962 a UNESCO report stated that Agatha Christie was the most widely read British author in the world, with Shakespeare second, a long way behind. The history of crime fiction can be explored this month at the British Library in London. Using manuscripts, books, audio recordings, artefacts and art works the history of crime fiction is explored from its origins to the present day. The exhibition runs until May 12th. Telephone 0843 2081144.
Anniversaries for May
10th May 1824: The National Gallery opens, in the townhouse of art collector John Julius Angerstien.
11th May 1812: Prime minister Spencer Percival is assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons.
16th May 1763: A young Scotsman named James Boswell, fleeing his father's plans to make him into a lawyer, meets the the famous writer Samuel Johnson in a London bookshop. Boswell would go on to write one of the most famous biographies in history, with Johnson as its subject.
24th May 1819: Princess Victoria is born, daughter of Edward, fourth son of George III, and Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg. Victoria would go on to become queen aged 18 in 1837.
25st May 1703: Samuel Pepys dies in Clapham, and as stipulated in his will, his collection of books is transferred to Magdalene College. Amongst 3000 books was Pepys Diary, which lay undiscovered until the early nineteenth century.
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Thank you to photo contributors Danielle Davis, Jean Edwards, Vicky Eagle of Portsmouth Dockyard, Kevin Edwards, Julian Jones, Richard Jones, Jackie Lewis, Debbie Lowless, Judy Mills of the Corinium Museum, and Susan Stuart of Old Spitalfields Market.