The use and abuse of History in Energy Transition Research

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A Presentation undertook at the Hild Bede Summer Research Conference at Durham University that aimed to introduce and explore the somewhat turbulent relationship between history and energy transition research. The joining together of social development, economic growth and decarbonisation strategies has become commonly framed in the language of ‘just transition’, in which fairness, equality, equity, and inclusion are ‘baked in’ to low carbon transition planning and policy. In the last 15 years, the emerging just transition framework has gained academic popularity with an almost countless number of studies, many that draw on historical examples or take longitudinal approaches. Implicit in this literature are the forces of historical change including industrialisation, deindustrialisation, neoliberalism and imperialism. Temporality is key; rarely do such transitions happen quickly but are slow, taking decades and sometimes centuries. This makes it all the more puzzling that energy transition scholars, especially those who work under the remit of just transitions, largely fail to interact with historical analysis, theory and historiographical trends more generally. Transition, which by its nature is temporal, is a historian’s remit; historiographical trends are shaped by how time is utilised and understood. The presentation aimed to assess this relationship between history and energy transition literature, providing instances of acknowledgment and cooperation as well as tension and in some cases complete blindness between the two disciplines. Oral history, through a social and cultural historical lens, can provide a bridge, potentially offering a much sought-after answer to scholars asking the extent to which past energy transitions are relevant for prospective sustainability pathways.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 21 Jun 2023
EventHild Bede Summer Research Conference - Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Jun 202321 Jun 2023


ConferenceHild Bede Summer Research Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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