Using History

“The past that is already dead remains present in the future that has still to be born.”

 Lewis Mumford

Development takes time. Anyone who has been working for a while in the development business knows that change doesn’t happen overnight. While a new scientific breakthrough or a technological innovation may appear within months, changing technological systems and our social codes and cultural rules of interaction normally takes many years, sometimes generations.

It is often said that we should learn from history and in my work, I have taken this advice literally. I often find myself doing history research as a way to understand the present, as well as using the present day’s development challenges to understand historical antecedents. After all, people are people, whether in present day Africa or in 19th century Sweden.

My work relating to the use of History has included an assignment for the Embassy of Sweden in Nairobi to commemorate 50 years of bilateral relations between Sweden and the Republic of Kenya. In 2014 I also made a background report for UN Habitat Global Report on Water and Sanitation, looking at change and development in water and sanitation from a long-term historical perspective.