The lessons of the past, we are told by policy-makers and public commentators alike, are important in informing decision-making in the present. The message they impart is simple: history matters. Yet the question remains: just how does a better understanding of the past make for better judgements in the present? This article explores the discipline's use in understanding the development sector today. It outlines the rapid expansion in the study of aid history over the 2000s, before briefly analysing how history contributes to contemporary policy-making and society. The final two sections document the practical uses of historical insight: in explaining the influence of the European Economic Community / European Union on aid in Ireland and the newest member states, and in helping to shed light on the impact of economic recession on donor behaviour. The article concludes by arguing that it is in the less tangible - though no less potent - understanding of process and context that history provides where the influence of the discipline is most keenly felt, and where the solutions for today's problems can be found.