Why History?


This detailed, celebratory picture of St Augustine’s Gate windmill, overlooking the city of Norwich, dates to 1723. Wind and water mills were a ubiquitous feature of rural and urban landscapes until relatively recent times.

Energy is a basic human necessity. Our need to produce energy in order to cook, keep warm, make tools and implements, to work and travel cuts through history. But there is more to history than simply finding out how things really were in the past. It is not enough to simply acknowledge that change has taken place, by charting how people have worked towards ever more efficient methods of energy production.

Perhaps a more important question to ask, is what purpose does history, and the work of historians, have today in engaging current debates about energy? Does history really matter? If we agree that it does, then what form should it take? How can the experiences of the past be presented in new, creative, inspiring and challenging ways to make a difference now? Can a deeper understanding of the past, of how people living in industrial and pre-industrial times thought about, created and consumed energy, provide a prompt for us to reevaluate our own attitudes towards energy today?

Viewed through the lenses of history, Stories of Change opens up exciting possibilities, to create, re-imagine and re-tell the story of energy in time and place, and to engage us in rethinking our relationship to energy now and in the future. More ‘stories from the archives’ coming up soon….

By Nicola Whyte, Department of History, University of Exeter

Image: : St Augustine’s Gate windmill, Norwich from Thomas Kirkpatrick’s North East Prospect of the City of Norwich, published in 1723, Author: Thomas Kirkpatrick

Source: Wikimedia Commons


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