Applied History

Panel 1: Presentisme

Should historians be presentists?

Please note that this panel is in English

Today, democratic societies seem to be confronted with an increasing number of crises and threats: the rise of populism, the lure of authoritarianism, terrorism, a global pandemic and, rapidly approaching, the biggest crisis of them all – climate change. Struggling to make sense of these crises, journalists and other pundits are turning to the past. Analogies with past events abound in the endless stream of commentaries on the current crises facing us.  

Yet historians often seem wary to meet this demand for their expertise. Since the 1990s, the historical profession reorganized itself around a strong suspicion of ‘presentism’. The idea that we might want to study the past in order to draw lessons for the present, or to come to a better understanding of how our current world evolved has been identified as one of the main cardinal sins of the historical profession, in addition to ‘determinism’. Why did this happen? And how does the prohibition on ‘presentism’ hold up today? What does the recent surge of interest in courses with titles like “The History of the Present” mean for our profession?  

Prof. dr. Annelien de Dijn
Panel Chair
Annelien de Dijn is Professor of Modern Political History and chair of the Political History Department at Utrecht University, focussing on the history of political thought in Europe and in the United States from 1700 to the present day. Read more
Prof. Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins
Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins is a historian of modern political and intellectual thought with a focus on Europe, and specifically France, and the world from the Cold War to the present. Read more
Prof. dr. Ido de Haan
Prof. dr. dr. Ido de Haan professor of post-medieval history, in particular the history of internal political relations. He specializes in the modern history of Western Europe, focussong on the consequences of regime changes, revolutions and large-scale violence, in particular... Read more
Dr. Lorena De Vita
Dr. Lorena De Vita is an Assistant Professor in the History of International Relations at Utrecht University. She is fascinated by the complexity - and possibility - of dialogue and cooperation in international politics.
Dr. mr. David Napolitano
David Napolitano is a lecturer at the Department of History and Art History. His academic interest focuses on the transnational and transinstitutional study of a multilingual corpus of normative treatises on city government targeted at city magistrates (mirrors-for-magistrates). Read more