IR scholars have always invoked history as a valuable resource for understanding the present. However, the question of how should we go about investigating and interpreting the past is rarely asked, let alone answered. While most IR approaches are anchored to the attempt to situate oneself outside history – reading the past in terms of the present or in terms of a hypothetical future – this article strives to redress the kind of historical perspective adopted, if at all, by IR scholars. It does so by advancing a distinctive historicist approach that emphasises the importance of understanding past practices and discourses in their own historical and intellectual contexts. In order to substantiate this claim, the article goes on to critically engage with recent calls to historicise intervention in IR, arguing that a historicist mode of analysis represents a corrective to presentism as well as an alternative route into present-day debates.