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The history of Northern Ireland poses two particular challenges for the political historian. First, histories of the region are inextricably bound up with contemporary political positions: historical time becomes distorted as histories are refracted through the lens of modern political controversies. Second, the importance of historical ‘memory’ to contemporary politics leaves little room for doubt, uncertainty or academic expertise. The past is assumed to be known; what place is there for academic historians when politicians and many members of the public are so invested in their own readings of the past? This article explores these challenges through two case studies in which the author was involved: the Historical Advisory Panel established by the UK government for the centenary of Northern Ireland; and subsequent debates around the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. It illustrates the difficult relationship between academic, public and politicised histories, and considers the lessons for historians whose expertise places them at the interface of those different ‘pasts’.