Interested in doing research on one of our recommended directions? Apply for our coaching for further guidance.
How can history research help to solve the world’s most pressing problems?
What factors might contribute to global catastrophes and how can they be mitigated? How can we regulate transformative technologies so they have a positive impact? Are there choices we can make now to reliably improve the wellbeing of those who will live many decades later?
There are many questions like these which historians could help answer. The study of history can illuminate broad trends which could help us anticipate, prevent and prepare for major global challenges like great power war or societal instability. It can inform attempts to improve the future by offering insight into why past attempts were more or less successful and identifying partial analogies for technologies like AI and bioengineering. It could inform our degree of confidence in present day beliefs and values by revealing how these have changed over time.
The profiles below are on some of the research directions that could be particularly valuable to explore through a historical lens. Some of the most useful research in these directions will likely involve looking for patterns in longterm trends or across multiple events, and considering to what extent these insights can inform us about the future. However, for a thesis or dissertation you will likely need to focus on a narrower question, such as a case study of a particular event or time period.
One way you could have an impact with your research is therefore by working on a topic that would be informative to other researchers who are trying to build this big picture understanding. Our coaches can connect you with researchers who can offer you guidance on choosing a topic.
Further exploration of how history research can help improve the world
This talk ‘From the Neolithic Revolution to the far future’ explores the potential for history research to inform our understanding of how to improve the world.
You could also look at this post on becoming a historian of large social trends for considerations to take into account if you are interested in pursuing this path.
Research agendas and potential sources for research questions
Here are sources from the Effective Altruism community and related organisations that feature questions a history student could take inspiration from:
- Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate – EA Forum
- Humanities Research Ideas for Longtermists – EA Forum
- Sentience Institute | Research Agenda
- AI Governance: A Research Agenda
- Risks from great power conflicts
- Sentience Institute | How tractable is changing the course of history?
- Research ideas on the history of social movements
- Founders Pledge – Great Power Conflict
Image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries