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Students at SSE learn from history

How can history help policymakers and business leaders make better decisions? This is the key question in a new course in Applied History at the Stockholm School of Economics. The 7.5 ECTS course is given for the second consecutive year and the number of applications from the school’s bachelor students has been very high.

- There is obviously a large demand for humanities courses among the SSE students as a complement to their regular programs. Many of the students are genuinely interested in history and social science, says course director Rikard Westerberg.

Last years’s student essays are now published in the anthology Applying History: Essays in Applied History at the Stockholm School of Economics 2020, which can be ordered from online bookstores. The essays discuss issues such as what Western politicians can learn from the fall of the Roman Empire, what today’s democratic movements can learn from the struggle for women’s right to vote in Sweden, and Europe’s need for a new Marshall Plan in the wake of the pandemic.

 - Much of what us economics and business students do is built on history. It can entail analyzing stock prices over time or understanding how a globally leading company like Kodak could go under, all to make wiser decisions in the here-and-now. Studying Applied History in many ways had the same aims, but it took the broader societal development into consideration, says Carl Widstrand, a student.

Emma Hamre, also a student, argues that improved historical insight can contribute to wiser decision-making.

- History gives us a completely novel understanding of how we see and interpret the world in which we live today. During our education we try to better understand how society, private enterprise and the global economy works from different perspectives. I believe that historical knowledge can make us more empathetic and humble, Hamre says.

The course is funded by the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation for Public Benefit. Under the leadership of Mattias Hessérus, the foundation has during several years pursued a project in Applied History, and it now wants to offer a course to students in Sweden. The course also fits the ambition of the Stockholm School of Economics to broaden the course offering with more humanities and art. Lecturers have been recruited from the Johnson Foundation’s international network of scholars, which includes teachers from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University.