Archive for September 21st, 2010

Hindsight, it’s a wonderful thing

21 September 2010

By Kevin O’Sullivan

‘Governments, consultancies and investment banks rushed to hire economists, who were thought to possess vital skills and information. Historians, by contrast, were treated as mere entertainers and storytellers. They were archive-grubbers, lacking in scientific method – good on television, but useless with a PowerPoint and no help in government or the boardroom.’

A tad simplistic, a little provocative, Gideon Rachman’s comments in the Financial Times on the difference between historians and economists – he’s on ‘our’ side – have stuck in my brain. And not just because of the conversation they sparked in that august journal and across the blogosphere.

About a week ago, I gave a paper at a symposium organised by the Development Studies Association Ireland, the lone historian among a cohort of social scientists, economists, aid workers, natural scientists, aid officials and bureaucrats. Great company and a great audience to test some of the theories of my current project – the history of Irish foreign aid, in 15 short minutes. But I could see it in their eyes, and I could hear it in the question of one audience member: yes, this is all very well and a nice little story too, but what does it tell us about aid giving in the recessionary climate of 2010?

Well, quite a lot actually, I replied. But just what is not the point of this post. Or, rather, it is. Read More