By way of introduction I would comment that as a lawyer who originally trained as a historian, I am frequently struck by the similarities between law and history. Both emphasize strongly the discovery, accumulation, and establishment of facts. Each views situations as fundamentally unique. Both historians and lawyers are wary of theory, and both structure their analysis on change over time, the one by sequencing events and exploring the interaction of people and forces in order to explain what occurred, and the other by emphasizing precedent and principle for the purpose of resolving controversy. Both demand rigor in the analysis: cold, cruel, hard questions and insistence on logical thought to come to conclusions based on fact. Both these disciplines are extremely useful in government, but we do not often recognize history in that role. Law, of course, appears practical and appropriate for government; after all, the rule of law undergirds the foundations of the Anglo-American form of government. History, however, is normally viewed by people in positions such as mine as something academic; it is interesting, to be sure, but not immediately relevant to the harried, pressured "real" world of decision making.
However, history is all around us, and of course we use it every day with hardly a second thought. Every person in government approaches a problem or issue at the very least, on the basis of his or her own personal experience, against which are measured the facts, the pattern of events, the people involved, the conditions, and the objectives to be sought. Almost subconsciously, our minds search for previous data or knowledge about the problem. When we ask our staffs for information or analysis, or for recommendations, they invariably produce background that comes from the past or that frames the problem in a form similar to a historical narrative.
Is such background researched with the same rigor, thoroughness, attention to detail, and comprehensiveness that historians often bring to a question? Sometimes it is--but not always. We use history and the historical method frequently,