Project Hindsight – Memory Decay

Please see the message below from Michael Weatherburn relating to his current work on “Project Hindsight”:

Hi everyone!

I hope my message finds you well.

Building on 2020’s successful ‘Memory Decay’ pilot, I’m getting in touch to let you know about Project Hindsight’s brand-new research.

We’d love to learn if and how one year of Covid-19 has changed how organisations work, function, and remember.

Click here to participate in our survey. Your valued input will be appreciated – thank you!

While I’m here, if you haven’t yet had a chance to watch Fieldwork’s A Short Film about Memory Decay (2020), featuring yours truly, you can do so here.

Speak soon,

Dr Michael Weatherburn

Project Hindsight is a strategy consultancy which uses the past to clarify the future. Our current focus is on institutional memory and forecasting.

‘Many practical lessons’
-Singapore Straits Times

Memorialization & place – UK’s Prof Olivette Otele

Reblogged from Imperial & Global Forum:

Here is another interesting video interview about history, memory, and empire with the UK’s first female black professor in history – Olivette Otele (see: BBC News )

The ‘Bordering on Brexit: Global Britain and the Embers of Empire‘ Conference was held last weekend at Garrison Library, Gibraltar. Professor Richard Toye, Director of Exeter’s Centre for Imperial and Global History, interviews Prof. Olivette Otele (Bath Spa) on the question of contested and controversial history and memorialisation in Bristol.

Review: The Impossible Necessity of History

Crossposted from:

Howard Aldrich reviews Ged Martin’s “Past Futures”

In terms of data, three problems confront anyone turning to the historical record for evidence about what “happened in the past.” First, throughout most of human history, very little that happened was permanently documented. Hugely significant events went unrecorded or noted with incomplete details using fragile techniques and materials, which disintegrated, burned, and were lost forever. Second, only a minuscule fraction of the population has ever been in a position to actually have their actions recorded. Much of what we do know about the past concerns that vanishingly small segment of the population some have recently labeled the 1%: elites who had the luxury of employing others to document what they did or the resources to create semi-permanent records using materials such as stone or parchment. The vast majority of the population engaged in activities that are now essentially invisible to us, although forensic anthropology and archaeology are pretty good at working with the few artifacts we can find. Third, more problematic is the tendency of those people who did leave records behind to engage in hyperbole, self-aggrandizement, and untrustworthy accounts of the role they actually played in historical events. Although the rise of modern digital technology would seem to have improved matters greatly, Martin argues that the problem still exists, but now on a grander scale. It is simply impossible to know everything that happened in the past.

In terms of model building, contemporary historians are in the unfortunate position of knowing exactly how things turned out. First, scholars are tempted to build their explanations backwards, starting from outcomes and then searching for plausible prior events, continuing back through history until reaching a “satisfactory” explanation. But, they will be working with historical materials left behind from each era by people who had their own theories of why things had happened and structured their documentation accordingly. Second, almost all events have multiple causes.  Prioritizing them and determining how much leverage each exerted on an outcome of interest is nearly impossible, given the data problems mentioned above. Martin compares this task unfavorably to the situation that laboratory scientists work with, which allows them to run multiple experiments, under conditions where they can control many possible causes, and isolate the influence of specific factors. By that test, of course, almost all social science explanations will also fail. Third, and perhaps more important, uncertainty permeates every aspect of human activity, with people facing multiple options at every turn. Even focusing on “decision-making,” as Martin advocates, doesn’t remove the problem of people having only the faintest of ideas concerning what’s going to happen next, given the action they take. Moreover, because we have no way of getting inside the heads of the people who made those important decisions, we can only speculate as to what they were thinking at the time they acted.

The “past futures” of the title refers to the fact that from the perspective of the present, everything in the past could be viewed as the realized futures of people who had little clue as to what was coming next. Today, we are their future, but it is highly unlikely that one any of them foresaw it. In writing history by looking backwards, from the present, it is tempting to make our “known past” part of our explanation by treating it as the intended future of humans who were making decisions about what options to pursue. But of course, lacking clairvoyance, they had no ability to imagine all the possible futures that would unfold. Nonetheless, the temptation to write linear, coherent narratives about why things had to happen the way they did overwhelms most scholars.

But wait, there’s more! Martin also takes historians to task for imposing normative judgments on the actions of historical figures, using contemporary values. The severity of the normative judgment increases, the further back in time the historian travels. He uses the example of people involved in the slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as more contemporary examples. Martin’s point is that such normative judgments cloud the construction of analytic arguments, biasing the selection of cases and causal principles.

Despite the incredibly bleak picture Martin draws of the impossibility of historical analysis, he nonetheless concludes his book with the argument that contemporary social scientists “need” historical analysis. Giving up their quest for comprehensive explanations of historical events, historians can instead simply locate events in time and identify their relationships to one another. They can tentatively indicate which events were more significant than others by making comparisons to possible alternatives, now known because we have the luxury of looking backwards. Abandoning the conceit of the superior present, they can remind us that “each succeeding present is merely provisional, nothing more than a moving line between past and future.”

Discerning readers of my blog post will now recognize why I like this book so much: this is a very evolutionary argument, cognizant of the need for humility in building tentative explanations of social phenomenon. “Past futures” are always explicable, if one is willing to commit the kinds of methodological and analytic fallacies that Martin points out. Don’t go there. He argues that contemporary historiography has plenty to do, without falling into the trap of building “neat and tidy” explanations. Instead, historians can make us aware of our own ethical standpoints and caution us against ransacking the past for justifications of currently favored policies. The future awaits us, but it is probably not the one that we envisioned, nor could we.

ESRC seminar 3: Narrative Construction of Memory

On December 10, 2015 CBS hosted the ESRC workshop on the Narrative Construction of Memory. The program and pictures are below.


9.00 – 9.30 Welcome & Introduction

9.30 – 10.15 Tor Hernes, Copenhagen Business School: Temporal Trajectory and Organizational Narrative

10.15 – 11.00 Robin Holt, Copenhagen Business School: Memory and Mnemosyne

11.00 – 11.15 Coffee

11.15 – 12.00 Dan Wadhwani, University of the Pacific: Creating Histories without a Past: Uses of History in the Entrepreneurial Processes

12.00 – 13.00 Lunch

13.00 – 14.15 Ronald Kroeze, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: The Use of History and Narratives by Dutch Top Managers and Companies

14.15 – 14.30 Coffee

14.30 – 15.15 Roy Suddaby, University of Victoria: Rhetorical History and Narrative History

15.15 – 16.00 Per Hansen, Copenhagen Business School: Narratives as the Basis of Memory and History

16.00 – 16:30 Discussion & Conclusion


Seminar Program ‘The Narrative Construction of Memory’

Program for the ESRC Seminar ‘The Narrative Construction of Memory’

December 10, 2015 – Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

 9.00 – 9.30           Welcome & Introduction

9.30 – 10.15         Tor Hernes, CBS: “Temporal Trajectory and Organizational Narrative”

10.15 – 11.00       Robin Holt, CBS: “Memory and Mnemosyne”

11.00 – 11.15       Coffee

11.15 – 12.00       Dan Wadhwani, University of the Pacific: “Projecting Plausible Futures: Uses of Historical Narratives in the Entrepreneurial Process”

12.00 – 13.00       Lunch

13.00 – 14.15       Ronald Kroeze, Free University of Amsterdam: “The Use of History and Narratives by Dutch Top Managers and Companies”

14.15 – 14.30       Coffee

14.30 – 15.15       Roy Suddaby, University of Victoria: “Rhetorical History and Narrative History”

15.15 – 16.00       Per Hansen, CBS: “Narratives as the Basis of Memory and History”

16.00 – 16.15       Coffee

16.15 – 17.00       Discussion & Conclusion

For further information, please see the poster.

Joint ESRC-CBS event in December

“The narrative construction of memory”

Our next event in the ESRC seminar series will be hosted jointly with Copenhagen Business School on 10 December, 2015, from 9:00-17:00.

The seminar bring together scholars from history, organization studies and management, with interest in narrative construction of history and memory and organizations.


Tor Hernes (Copenhagen Business School): ‘Temporal trajectory and organizational narrative’
Sjoerd Keulen (Independent Scholar) & Ronald Kroeze (Free University of Amsterdam): ‘The use of history and the creation of narratives by Dutch companies’
Per Hansen (Copenhagen Business School): ‘Narratives as the basis of memory and history”
Dan Wadhwani (University of the Pacific): ‘Projecting Plausible Futures: Uses of historical narratives in the Entrepreneurial Process’
Roy Suddaby (University of Victoria & Newcastle University Business School): ‘Rhetorical history and narrative history’
Robin Holt (Copenhagen Business School): ‘Memory and Mnemosyne’

To sign up, please go to:

For more information see the flyer: Biz_His Narrative Memory

Please note that CBS will host a PDW on 9 December in conjunction with the ESRC event as part of their Business History Initiative.