Humanities, Criticality and Transparency: Global Health Histories and the foundations of inter-sectoral partnerships for the democratisation of knowledge

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Historians of medicine have been influential actors in a broader movement to highlight the social, institutional and administrative benefits of historical research, and its relevance for national and international policy intended to extend and improve contemporary healthcare. Historical perspectives are fundamentally useful to health policy actors because questions about what it is to be healthy, to suffer disease or disability, and the presentation and acceptance of solutions are interwoven in culturally and historically complex webs of meaning. Historians, as they have examined the social and cultural social determinants of health, have also used their work as public engagement, educational and policy resource tools, demonstrating that history is an effective way of making key issues in science, medicine and well-being more administratively responsive and accessible to lay audiences.
This article explores such issues through the case study of the long-running World Health Organization (WHO) Global Health Histories project. Established in late 2004, the project’s enduring rationale has been that understanding the history of health helps the global public health community to respond to the challenges of today and help shape a healthier future. It has sought to do this by bringing together researchers and policy-makers into honest and democratic conversations and exchanges of ideas. The aim has been to stimulate a fusion between historical evidence and current policy approaches to many of the most urgent health issues. This article discusses the challenges and opportunities in bringing health history and policy together, and explores the importance of explaining historical method and the need to convince policy partners how history is evidence-based, that it can access and provide useful strategic information from archives of major institutions, and, therefore, a useful contributor to making policy initiatives adaptable and acceptable within complex polities and societies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2020


  • Global Health Histories, Historical analysis; impact; interdisciplinarity; health policy; engagement

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