Past and Present (2019)

The Engelsberg Seminar 2019

June 13th – 15th 2019 Engelsberg Ironworks, Sweden

In 1912 the American historian and political scientist Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh wrote:

‘Applied History views the past as a vast social laboratory in which experiments

in politics and human welfare are daily being set and tested on a most elaborate scale. Moreover, in this human laboratory the conditions are real conditions, the factors are real men and women, and the varied relations and combinations or conditions and factors are always those of real life […] To wisely use the results of all these experiments in efforts to solve the problems which confront each generation is to carry out a program of Applied History.’

Shambaugh, once a renowned scholar in America but largely forgotten today,

was convinced that we can learn from history. A child of his time, he had a strong belief in the progress of mankind and the scientific method. In his writings he also echoed Thucydides’ ideal of a history that could be ‘judged useful by those who will want to have a clear understanding of what happened – and, such is the human condition, will happen again at some time in the same or a similar pattern.’

In this seminar we will enter into Shambaugh’s ‘vast social laboratory’ of human experience and apply history to today’s pressing issues of international relations, geopolitics, and economics. We will start our seminar by examining the role of the individual in history and discuss human nature from both the perspective of evolutionary psychology and of ideology, as well as the history of ideas. Can the individual as historical actor overcome an inherited tribal instinct? And what role has western civilisation played in defining and refining human nature? We will continue by investigating the possibilities and pitfalls of using the past to understand the present. We will also ask ourselves what lessons Thucydides and the classical world can teach us regarding both democracy and international power competition.

On the second day we will turn our attention to problems of the Middle East and discuss how the long and short history of the region has shaped the present, and how historical analogies can map a way forward. We will then focus on the future of Europe and the role of three major European powers: Germany, France, and the UK. How can we best understand the present European crises? And what do we make of the rising populism in Europe?

The afternoon will be devoted to the question of continuity and discontinuity

in Russia and how to best deal with the Russians. We will also address how fake

history is today used to legitimise authoritarian regimes and what it means for

international relations. We will end the day by asking how we should understand capitalism and if we, by applying economic history, can cultivate and refine a system that has delivered historically unprecedented prosperity but also has its ills.

The Engelsberg seminar 2019 will conclude by looking at China and a new world order that is shaped by the past but changing in the present. Can an American-led world order be saved, and will the democratic system as we know it prevail? Time will tell.


Human Nature and the Individual in History

 Maurizio Viroli

Professor, University of Texas at Austin

Lecture: Learning from the Past: Historic Examples and Civic Consciousness

Cory Clark

Assistant Professor of Social Psychology, Durham University

Lecture: Tribalism is Human Nature


Janne Haaland Matlary

Dr. Philos, DM, Professor, University of Oslo, Norwegian Defence University College

Lecture: The Greatness of European Civilisation: Defining and Refining Human Nature


Vernon Bogdanor

Professor, King’s College

Lecture: The Individual in History


Applying History


Fredrik Logevall

Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University

Lecture: The Uses and Misuses of the Past


Michael Burleigh

Engelsberg Chair at LSE IDEAS, London School of Economics

Lecture:Pitfalls and Perils of History and Politics


Erica Benner

Dr, Writer

Lecture: Democratic Crisis: Lessons from Ancient Athens

Graham Allison

Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School

Lecture: Applying History to US-China Relations Today


Middle East


Nathan Shachar

Journalist and Author

Lecture:  Are We Really Someone Else?


Rob Johnson

Dr, Director of the Changing Character of War Centre, University of Oxford

Lecture: Lawrence ‘of Arabia’ on War


Brendan Simms

Professor, Forum on Geopolitics, University of Cambridge

Lecture: A Westphalia for the Middle East?


Emma Sky

Director, Yale World Fellows, Yale University

Lecture: In a Time of Monsters


Elisabeth Kendall

Senior Research Fellow in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Pembroke College, University of Oxford

Lecture: Making Sense of the Yemen War: Past, Present (& Future)




Josef Joffe

Dr, Editor, Publisher, Die Zeit

Lecture: Germany in Europe: The Engine That Couldn’t


Peter Ricketts

Lord, House of Lords

Lecture: Modern France and the Ghosts of the Past


Karin Svanborg-Sjövall

Director, Timbro

Lecture: Authoritarian Populism as an Ideology


Fraser Nelson

Editor, The Spectator

Lecture: Brexit for Europhiles




Gudrun Persson

Deputy Research Director, Swedish Defence Research Agency

Lecture: Russia: the Return of History


Andrew Monaghan

Director of Research on Russia and Northern European Defence and Security, Oxford Changing Character of War Centre

Lecture: How the Past Informs and Shapes Contemporary Russian Grand Strategy


Calder Walton

Dr, Ernest May Fellow in History & Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Lecture: Spectre of the Cold War: Russian Disinformation, Past and Present

Christopher Coker
Professor, London School of Economics
Lecture: The Civilizational State and Fake History


Understanding Capitalism


Jesse Norman

Paymaster General and Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Lecture: Adam Smith: What He Thought, and Why it Matters


Iain Martin

Columnist, The Times

Lecture: Make Capitalism Great Again


Niall Ferguson

Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Lecture: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy Revisited




Jonathan Fenby

Author; Chairman, China Service, TS Lombard
Lecture: China: Return of the Empire


Rana Mitter

Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford

Lecture: How China’s History is Changing its Past: and Future


Yu Jie

Dr, Asia-Pacific Research Fellow, Chatham House

Lecture: Money, Might and Mindset: China’s Self-centred Global Ambition



World Order


John Bew

Professor of History and Foreign Policy, King’s College

Lecture: World Order: Many-headed Monster or Noble Pursuit?


Philip Bobbitt

Professor, Columbia Law School

Lecture: The Crisis of Democracy or The Crisis of the State


Kori Schake

Deputy Director-General, International Institute for Strategic Studies

Lecture:Saving the American-led World Order


Watch the lectures on Axess TV