Relations to the past: a research agenda for historical theorists

What are current tendencies in historical theory, judging by the inaugural conference (2013) of the International Network for Theory of History? In this article, I note two tendencies: an interest in history beyond the academy and a desire to overcome the theoretical polarization that has characterized the field in past decades. Subsequently, I argue that these tendencies can be seen as reflecting a single research agenda, which, in turn, can be described in terms of ‘relations to the past.’ I unpack this notion, borrowed from Mark Day, in some detail, explain what sort of questions it helps address, and offer two examples from in and outside the historical discipline. If I am right in arguing that this research agenda captures much of what is currently being offered under the flag of historical theory, then historical theory seems on its way to become a field of expertise on the ways in which both historians and others relate to the past.