November 23-24, 2023

Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Fabianinkatu 24 A (3rd floor)


As the world struggles to comprehend Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine, the past seems to many a precious resource to understand what seemed unthinkable almost two years ago. Scholars, politicians, diplomats, and journalists readily use historical analogies to explain the war and predict its possible future developments. Comparisons are made with the world’s imperial past and decolonisation, fascism and the Third Reich, the inability of the League of Nations to prevent and stop the Second World War, and the Cuban missile crisis and the Cold war. Occasionally, more nationally specific parallels are drawn, such as with the Winter War of 1939–1940 or the breakup of Yugoslavia. As popular as these analogies are, we rarely pause to reflect critically on the practice of making historical comparisons. How valid is this approach of thinking about the present through the lens of the past? Can history guide us through these tumultuous times, or, as Sting sings, is it rather that “history will teach us nothing”? How can we use historical parallels to add explanatory power to our analysis of current events? During this interdisciplinary symposium, we would like to ponder the value of historical analogies and comparisons by discussing some of the most common topics brought up in the context of discussions of the war in Ukraine. In doing so, the participants will also reflect on the broader question of the relevance of history for the twenty-first century world.