Although thriving in many respects, racial health disparities research suffers from a lack of historical analysis and may be in danger of reaching a saturation point. This article examines how renewed attention to history can enhance the explanatory power of such research. First, it surveys a body of writing on what history can contribute to contemporary social science and policy debates. Next, it compares current racial health disparities research to the analytical impasse encountered by urban poverty researchers of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It contrasts that work with two classic post-Second World War urban histories, and identifies qualities of the latter lacking in conventional social science. The essay then surveys historically oriented works on race and health, pointing out their usefulness to racial health disparities research while discussing promising future research directions. It concludes with a brief reflection on changes in the academic institutional context necessary for fruitful synergy between public health researchers and historians.
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