History of public administration, or administrative history, is the study of the origin and evolution of administrative institutions, structures, praxises and ideas. Scholars of the history of public administration usually, but not always, base their research on written texts such as archive material and various printed sources. By studying the history of modern public administration, we are able to look beyond contemporary administrative behaviour and systems and investigate the roots and branches of modern government. The room to manoeuvre in present day public administration is determined by its spatial and temporal limits; we need to explore and describe these boundaries in historical time in order to grasp the complexity of history of public administration as academic field.
Some scholars argue that history of public administration should primarily be considered an applied science allowing the researcher to apply lessons from the past to contemporary challenges. Others regard history of public administration as first and foremost an academic discipline in itself with no explicit intention of reaching prescriptive conclusions. Generally, however, while vast swathes of research has addressed and analysed contemporary policy outcomes and administrative praxises, little consideration has been given to the ways in which support systems were administered in the past or their institutional and historical development.
In the research programme Policy Futures, we investigate the historical dimension of public administration by gathering, exploring and analysing historical data of various kinds, with the main goal of creating knowledge concerning the institutional development of different administrative sectors and units.