New Mock Briefings Program Shows Student-Historians How to Inform Policy

Historians in the News
tags: AHA, Mock Policy Briefings Program, National History Center

This fall the National History Center is introducing the Mock Policy Briefings Program, modeled on our own Congressional Briefings by Historians initiative.

The inspiration for the Mock Policy Briefings Program comes from concerns and questions of colleagues and students. Last fall, in an address about the state of civic engagement in the United States, National Endowment for the Humanities chair William “Bro” Adams remarked that the humanities are the intellectual guardians of civic participation and challenged us to think about how we can strengthen civics education and practice. Later, one of the participants in our briefing last winter on the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Mark Von Hagen of Arizona State University, told center staff that his students were surprised to learn that he, a historian, was going to Washington to brief congressional staffers.

Congressional Briefings by Historians seeks to inform staffers on the historical contexts of contemporary issues Congress addresses. As we build the program, we are learning that many hundreds of history-degree holders work on Capitol Hill. Historians and history-degree holders are part of policy-making conversations, but, as stories like Von Hagen’s have alerted us, students may not appreciate the extent to which knowledge of the past helps to illuminate and inform policy decisions.

The Mock Policy Briefings Program responds to Adams’s challenge and students’ curiosity about historians’ public role, along with broad concern in the discipline about declining history enrollments. The program has three goals. It aims to foster students’ understanding of the value of historical perspectives for policy decision making. It seeks to enhance students’ civic engagement by asking them to connect their historical studies to policy-making conversations. And, finally, it aims to help students recognize and showcase the skills and habits of mind they have gained from their history education.

How does the program work? The answer is up to the people implementing it. The program guide, available on the center’s and Association’s websites, provides step-by-step advice on crafting a briefing and explains the pedagogical value of the project. Drawing on the AHA’s Tuning project, the guide also helps students articulate the usefulness of their history degree. We include sample assignments, logistical advice based on the center’s briefings, and follow-up opportunities, with sections geared to educators, students, and history clubs. As the sample syllabus indicates, putting on a policy briefing involves research, written work, and oral presentations. The guide asks students to present the historical context of an issue in a compelling but nonpartisan way. The particulars, however, will vary, as pilot projects suggest. ...

Read entire article at AHA Perspectives on History

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