What place does ‘presentism’ have in modern historical scholarship? Can students of the past avoid seeing it through the prism of the present? Should our research be undertaken with an eye to its current relevance and with the aim of transforming the future? Past and Present invited seven historians to reflect critically on these questions with reference to their own periods and specialisms. The results of this experiment are published below. It is hoped that this collection of short viewpoints will help to stimulate discussion and debate about the state of the discipline and the practice of history both within and beyond the academy.

As several of the contributors comment, the term ‘presentism’ usually carries pejorative overtones. At root it is a term of abuse, a slur conventionally deployed to describe an interpretation of history that is biased towards and coloured by...

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