Chapter 1: Proof and the problem of objectivity
- History: a science or an art?
- History and the status of historical knowledge
- Choosing evidence, challenging interpretations
- Causes in history
This chapter introduces history as a discipline and as an approach to historical knowledge. While it cannot be comprehensive, its aim nevertheless is to explore problems faced by historians as they seek to understand past societies. How they do this depends on many factors. At its simplest, however, it largely depends on whether history is regarded as a science which has the historian as objective fact finder and analyst. Or whether, alternatively, history is treated as an art in which the historian presents an interpretation of the past that is a result of either personal experience or the social and cultural milieu in which the historian is located. The first section introduces these issues by looking afresh at the argument first raised in the 1960s between historians E. H. Carr and Geoffrey Elton but in the newer context of postmodernism. It sets out the varying ways in which each of these prominent historians approached the discipline and dealt with historical evidence in all its varied forms. Section two uses historical writing concerned with the events of 1857, the Indian Mutiny, in order to discuss whether history is truly a dependable basis of knowledge that can provide a comprehensive and reliable explanation of how past societies change. The third section will focus in on another dispute between historians, that of Chartism. We shall see how historical facts are generated but how too historians select evidence and then use innovative techniques to inform our historical understanding. This section will explain how historical explanations for a single historical event or period can change radically over time, either by the discovery of new evidence or more likely the altering approach to evidence by historians influenced by developing methodologies. The last section goes to the heart of the historical project. How can the historian establish cause and correlation? Occasionally we can know when ‘stuff happened’, but these events and circumstances can exist in parallel narratives unless meaningful connections can be found and then proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Historians, certainly English‐speaking historians, quite often protest that they would prefer to get on with the business of researching and writing history than concentrating on that theory that serves this evidence. Despite this, a surprising number are happy to engage in discussing the boundaries of history. In particular, the extent to which the discipline has a history and the historian interrelate. In order to illustrate this simple problem, this section has explored the debate as to what history is about and how it is (or should be) practiced. Nowhere has the important question about the objectivity or subjectivity of the historian been more comprehensively debated than in the argument between E. H. Carr and Geoffrey Elton. The section tends not to take sides in this debate but recognises that the notion of history as a verifiable ‘science’ or an art where the subjectivity or imagination of the historian is taken into account has been one of the most enduring problems in historiography. It does argue, however, that as the historian is part of history, subjectivity may be impossible and may even be an advantage, once admitted and in some circumstances.
- Questions regarding objectivity and subjectivity are highlighted by looking at the way in which the Indian Mutiny in the nineteenth century has bequeathed us both ‘hard’ empirical evidence and received ideas about the role of the British during the imperialist experience. Here, by looking how one historians has used evidence and through the application of a simple exercise, it can be demonstrated how a perfectly respectable history of India is written using certain historical and linguistic assumptions held by the author. This then allows us to reconsider afresh the view of Geoffrey Elton that history should be evidence led with the historian decentred from the application of clear historical method applied to the evidence.
- Since the decline of Chartism in the 1850s, historians have sought to explain its demise. Biographical approaches to approaches that examine the expressive aspects of Chartism have all been used at one time or other. Chartism has also been the source of present‐day tussles that have emphasised the political nature of the movement, its national or local character, its economic basis and so on. Choosing evidence to support this or that viewpoint has differed, while the interpretation of that evidence has often depended on the preoccupations of the here and now. The section emphasises, however, that the most significant breakthrough in this field was prompted by the work of Dorothy Thompson and then Gareth Stedman Jones. They agreed on much, but the use by Stedman Jones of linguistic theory succeeded in transforming our knowledge of Chartism without the addition of a single new fact.
- The final section investigates the problem of causation in history. Since the Enlightenment (see Chapter 5), historians and social scientists have attempted to identify precisely what caused particular historical episodes to take place. The transition from facts to general laws, however, which seemed to be accomplished with great success in the natural sciences, worked less well in history. The main problem was in the evidence itself. Scientific evidence tended to be much more secure, reliable and controllable. Facts were gathered by scientists (or social scientists such as Auguste Comte) under strictly monitored conditions. They derived from first‐hand observation which, if necessary, could be repeated time and again. No historian enjoyed such privileges. The inevitable outcome was that history remained rooted in the compilation of facts which came to be seen as its sole raison d’être. So where does all this leave the question of historical causation? If we reject the idea of a single causal factor or of the determining influence of individual actors, then are we necessarily forced to accept the view that historical causation is multivalent and multi‐layered? Yes, we think it does.
Further Reading* essential
Here the historian Alun Munslow examines the importance of the seminal work of both E. H. Carr and Geoffrey Elton in the light of historiographical advances since the 1960s and, in particular, the way in which postmodernists have cast doubt on history as a dependable basis of knowledge
Geoffrey Elton (2002)  The Practice of History.
The standard case for history as an objective science. The Blackwell edition has a useful introduction by Richard Evans.
Mark Hewitson (2014) History and Causality.
An excellent exploration of the subject and theme of causality. It pulls in much context and lays out clearly the main challenges in this area faced by the historian.
E. H. Carr (1961) What is History?
The standard case for history as a subjective art.
Dorothy Thompson (1984), Chartism: Popular Politics in the Industrial Revolution.
The emphasis here is on the national characteristics of Chartism and the culmination of working class radicalism. The renewed focus is on the political, rather than the economic roots of Chartism and the occupations of those that became Chartists.
* Gareth Stedman Jones (1983), ‘Rethinking Chartism’, in The Languages of Class.
Probably the most controversial and influential account of Chartism which asks questions about the significance and role of language and its relation to class consciousness, finally suggesting that Peel’s reforms in the 1840s rendered the Chartist critique of the state as out of date.
* Miles Taylor (1996), ‘Rethinking the Chartists: Searching for Synthesis in the Historiography of Chartism’.
Is a wonderful overview of the historiography by an historian who really understands nineteenth-century popular politics.
Chapter 2: Ordering of time
- Time, history, modernity
- Newton and the ‘time reckoner’
- Time, history and the shape of things to come
- Events, people and periods: what is ‘Victorian’? When were the ‘sixties’?
This chapter explores the connection between history and time. The very idea of time, its relationship to human history and our understanding of it as either circular, coming back on itself, linear where it moves inextricably forward or as existing in isolated pockets of experience, differs within and across cultures. Notions of time then relate to the nature of society, for example, whether the society under review is pre-literate, agrarian or advanced industrial. Time is also a site of struggle; the modern world is the outcome of a reordering of time driven by capitalist rationalization.
Historians tend to order past time by slicing it up into epochs and periods, but there are incongruities in so doing. The decade that we call the 1960s is not necessary congruent with the ‘sixties’ as an historical period. The 1960s is measurable as a block of time, not so the cultural phenomena that we associate with the ‘sixties’. And as a distinct period which, for example, was detectable in the United States, France, Britain and Italy, it may have passed almost without trace in, say, South America or the Soviet Union.
Questions follow from this. What are the elements that might be associated with historical periods? To be a Victorian, for example, is to be associated with a particular time but also with an historical style. Think Victorian and, more likely than not, we can conjure up a world of extreme richness and extreme poverty – shoeless children working in chimneys and gentlemen in top hats making their way through the London fog carrying silver-topped canes. Sex and hypocrisy sleep together. When do historical periods begin and end? Is the decade we call the ‘sixties’ actually a discrete period with its own associations of free love and counter-cultural protest, quite unlike the period that came before it, the ‘age of austerity’ characterized by war, food shortages and drabness? Answers to questions such as these and to others like it, must always be given in the knowledge that historians impose ‘periods’, ‘eras’, ‘epochs’ and ‘ages’ on time. In a recent controversy at the University of Oxford about a demand for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes with unpleasant imperialist associations, the chancellor of the university was not alone in saying that ‘you can’t rewrite history’. This is, of course, precisely what historians do, and our conception and reconception of period is a great aid in this endeavour.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Time and its relation to contemporary forms of history are inextricably bound up with modernity and notions of time that historians tend to associate with advanced, industrial countries. Whether that results in ideas of time that are culturally contingent is explored as ‘family time’, ‘industrial time’ and time that became linked with the western imperial project, such as the struggle to locate longitude at sea or the commodification and rationalization of time by a dynamic, rapacious, capitalist system.
- History writing also depends on an understanding of time developed by Christian chronologies and chronologies informed by other religious traditions. Yet the exact dating of events, for example, between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, has remained a problem for Christian historiography. This is a model of time and history that has been at the core of developmental theories of history treated elsewhere in this book but not necessarily in non-linear histories that regard the narrow periods adopted by historians as stifling and pessimistic about the trajectory of history.
- These chronologies, however, have often been conceived as linear and progressive, pointing history forward but have also led to skepticism about the ability of history to anticipate the future. The process of industrialization has been influenced by conceptions of time, but religious ideas of time remain important to the seventeenth and eighteenth century English, Scottish and European Enlightenments. While the notion of ‘absolute’ time developed by Sir Isaac Newton in the eighteenth century established the first widely accepted chronology, free of religious influence, time/space and ‘time compression’, it made possible profound political and cultural relationships of power and hegemony in the West.
- ‘Watersheds’ and ‘periods’ imposed by historians, such as the Victorian period and ‘the sixties’, depend on a particular understanding of time developed in the West in the period since the eighteenth century. The imposition by historians of ‘periods’, ‘eras’ and ‘ages’ on time is a product of an understanding which is historically influenced.
Further reading* essential
* Penelope J. Corfield (2007) Time and the Shape of History.
Provides a useful and comprehensive review of the literature, but more than this, it is a major intervention into this important area of historiography. Conceptually complex and difficult in places, it nevertheless succeeds in prompting careful thought about the temporal nature of history and history writing.
Niall Ferguson (ed.) (1997) Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactuals.
A flawed but intellectually brave attempt to prompt debate about the way that historians adopt chronologies and timelines. By inviting us to think about these chronologies and timelines in a counterfactual way, we also think about the relationship between time itself and how historians use time in their periodization.
J. Flood, J. Ginther, & J. Goering (eds.) (2013) Robert Grosseteste and His Intellectual Milieu.
This draws a picture of the medieval Bishop Grosseteste and the importance of his ‘natural philosophy’ and medieval science to the knowledge of phenomena such as light and time.
William Gallois (2007), Religion, Time and History.
Complex and sometimes elusive as an introductory text, it nonetheless provides an intelligent and wide-ranging coverage of time/history as a cultural construction and which in turn can define our very humanity.
* Stephen Kern (2003) The Culture of Time and Space 1880–1914.
A tremendously detailed and ambitious account of changes in technology and culture in the period between the end of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the First World War, and our modern understanding of how space and time work in the light of these fundamental changes and how, indeed, these changes may impact on history.
Jonathan Sacks (2003) The Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah.
A regular around the Passover table in many Ashkenazi Jewish families, but also it is also a learned study with some informed and interesting commentary on the concept of Jewish time and how it has been understood historically.
D. J. Wilcox (1987) The Measure of Times Past: Pre-Newtonian Chronologies and the Rhetoric of Relative Time.
A fine and comprehensive commentary on how time was measured before ‘absolute time’ and ‘objectivity’ associated with Newton and the eighteenth century. This book is difficult but rewarding as it takes us back to pre-modern ideas of discontinuous, relative time in the late Middle Ages.
Chapter 3: Ideas of history; from the ancients to the Christians
- Herodotus and gold-digging ants
- Thucydides and reason: an historian for our times?
- What did the Romans ever do for history?
- Late antiquity, Christianity and the end of days
This chapter takes us across centuries, mapping the developments in historical writing from the time of the ancient Greeks to late antiquity. This timeline covers the decline of the Roman Empire to the rise of Christianity. The opening section, therefore, examines the emergence of historical writing in ancient Greece with the contributions of Herodotus and Thucydides. A distinction is made between mythical writing about the past (such as The Iliad and The Odyssey), and the ethnographical histories of Herodotus and of the more systematic Thucydides. The next section covers the development of historical writing in the Hellenic and Roman periods. Roman historians are seen to be in many ways much less ambitious in approach and scope than the Greeks who they had succeeded. Finally, we explore the differences in approaches to historical theory, method and practice introduced by Christianity in Europe. This shift in power and influence leads directly to histories which not only seek to understand the past in the present but also to suggest a millennial concern with the future. In this narrow sense, these early interventions from Christian historians set up a latter predominance of history writing that (unlike say Thucydides) is concerned with prophecy and portents.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Greek historiography is at the root of both western value systems and structures and the history has proved to be a major element in the development of western civilization. The section is careful to pay close attention to the work of Herodotus as the so-called Father of History. While much of his work is acknowledged to be gullible and far-fetched, the determination to record ethnographical details of the people and civilizations he studied has left us with valuable evidence of the lives and habits of once great peoples that are now lost to history, save for some contemporary archaeology. While Herodotus refers to gold-digging ants and other (to us) fantastic phenomena, he nevertheless has a real sense of historical method and imagination which remain both interesting and of usefulness to students of history.
- There were continuities within Greek approaches to the past but also distinct differences. In particular, comparisons are made between Herodotus and Thucydides. Using the criteria set out by Collingwood of what constitutes ‘scientific’ or ‘rational’ history, it seems that Thucydides was by far more systematic in both method and approach. Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides was less likely to construct his history within the contemporary conventions of theatre or rhetoric. He was, however, adept at reading evidence and providing reasonable speculation about historical patterns to be found in that evidence. Above all, Thucydides tended to discount the role of the gods, or supernatural phenomena, in the processes of historical change. Finally, we consider the vital role played by Polybius in his more sophisticated approach to the archive.
- The historians of Rome had some similarities. The differences, however, were fairly profound. They tended to be centred on morality and the wielding of power. There was also a tendency for Roman historians to concentrate less than the Greeks on performance. Instead, we find the historians of this great empire concentrating (in addition to politics and morality) on the evidence of history. In particular, this would include the lives of the emperors which could be retrieved through reminiscences, biography, autobiography, correspondence, and speeches. In this sense at least, historians in Rome could be said to be in the service of the state.
- Both Greek and Roman approaches to history had a lasting effect on future societies and civilizations, especially in what we now think of as the West. In particular, the Greek historians made initial innovations in technique and imagination. Christian approaches to the past particularly introduced the notion that present day society was constantly on the cusp of a new world which was to be announced in a moment of a catastrophic crisis, forcing historians to think differently about the past but in the context of a future now weighed against prophecy.
Simon Hornblower (ed.) (1994), Greek Historiography.
Simon Hornblower (ed.) (1994), Greek Historiography.
A standard undergraduate account of Greek historians that is very good at taking the student by the hand, and gives a real sense of the development of the historian across a long period.
* G. A. Press (1982) The Development of the Idea of History in Antiquity.
Very useful as both an introduction to historiography and as an informed and lively narrative which is very aware of both the classics and the reassessment of the classics in later periods. In this sense, it can also be read with both Chapters 1 and 2 in mind.
Herodotus, The Histories (2000), ed. John Marincola.
This Penguin edition is both comprehensive and informative. The introduction gives a good account of the changing reputation of Herodotus with a good bibliography, maps, etc.
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (1998), eds. Walter Blanco and Jennifer Tolbert Roberts.
Both an annotated edition of The Peloponnesian War and a compilation of some of the comments it has attracted from historians in the modern period. This is a very good way of orientating yourself into Thucydides, his work and commentaries about the importance of his work.
* Stephen Usher (1985) The Historians of Greece and Rome.
A very fine account (especially for the uninitiated) of the importance and elements of both Greek and Roman historiography. Look especially for the interesting take on Thucydides.
* Ronald Mellor (ed.) (2004) The Historians of Ancient Rome.
Set out clearly and with obvious attractions for a student new to the subject.
Ronald Mellor (ed.) (1999) The Roman Historians.
As informed as his later book but probably with less clarity. The section on the origins of Roman historiography is especially useful, as is the section on historical writing.
Suetonius (2003) The Twelve Caesars.
For the worth of biography and autobiography in ancient Rome see Mellor (1999) but also this Penguin edition, which is translated by Robert Graves and introduced by Michael Grant.
* Robert Graves and Barry Unsworth (2006) I, Claudius.
Such is the original research and scholarship by Robert Graves, this should be required undergraduate reading in this area, especially when considering the role of biography and autobiography in Roman historiography.
* David Rohrbacher (2002) The Historians of Late Antiquity.
This deals with both the framework and context of the period and the provenance of ecclesiastical and church history, hagiography and the rest of the Christian canon in historiography. It also surveys the life and works of notable individual historians. It is invaluable as a survey, but also pay attention to the bibliography.
Chapter 4: From the Middle Ages to the Early Modern
- European Christendom and the ‘age of Bede’
- Peoples of the book: Jewish and Islamic conceptions of history
- The Renaissance, humanism and the rediscovery of the classics
- The battle of books: Camden, Clarendon and English historical writing
Here we take up the story where the last chapter finished by examining historiographical trends in the period that in the West was known as the Middle Ages. The main focus in the opening section is the Venerable Bede, who as a seventh-century Christian historian developed a remarkable technique of reading sources. His purpose was better to understand chronology in order that the End of Days might be calculated according to prophecy. Christian notions of the past were predicated on the notion that since history was moved forward by an omnipotent God, there was an urgent need to calculate the timing of the Second Coming. This notion of forward movement was shared by the monotheistic religious traditions, most notably, Judaism and Islam. The Jewish tradition believed that history had a forward trajectory but also inhabited a narrative of its own that was provided by a rich tradition of the Tanakh representing the canon of the Hebrew Bible and commentaries. Thus from the first century to the fifteenth century, Jewish historians remained silent in that they tended not to articulate histories outside of their own communities and the narrow concerns of the Hebrew Bible. Islamic scholarship, in contrast, thrived; was rich in content and voluminous in scale and scope. This innovative tradition in Islam became less dynamic after the end of the Spanish ‘Golden Age’ in the 1400s and, indeed, gave way to scholarship which was more conservative and inevitably less self-critical of the ways of reading testimony and evidence. The West ended the so-called ‘dark ages’ (or so it was thought) by a Renaissance of ideas, art and culture. Its importance to the history of historiography was the rediscovery of the classics (not that they completely went away) and all that the Greek and Roman historians were to mean to the discipline in the centuries to follow.
The researching and writing of English history changed fundamentally by the early modern period. When exactly it changed is a matter of dispute but sometime in the late sixteenth century or early seventeenth century seems generally agreed by most historians. How it changed is disputed less. The chronicles of the period before about 1580 took their cue from religious concerns and their primary sources from the Bible. The results tended to disregard evidence based in testimony or verifiable fact and instead reproduced narratives of the past that were mythical and fantastic. As we see in the last section, the writing and research of the national story was influenced largely by the Renaissance and Italian commentators (themselves influenced by the classics) and became the preserve not of monks or churchmen but of the new professional classes who used antiquarian evidence drawn from, say, coins, ruins or landscapes to compose humanist histories.
The sections of this chapter argued four things:
- Christian approaches to history in the Middle Ages were based on uses of historical evidence that would not be deemed acceptable or robust to modern sensibilities regarding the objectivity of the historian and the subjectivity of the witness. Historians such as Bede in the early medieval world were overwhelmingly concerned to locate the signs and portents inherent in historical events that would help confirm how far humanity was on the timeline towards the End of Days, discerned according to prophecy. In this sense, Bede was concerned to both establish a chronology that could locate the common feasts and festivals on the Christian calendar and to locate the history of Christianity in Britain.
- Non-European ideas of the nature of history were somewhat different from those of Christianity. Jewish historiography had a vivid exponent in the shape of Flavius Josephus, who wrote with verve and colour, giving us an extraordinary account of what it was like to live under Roman rule. This was the last heard of Jewish historians, however, until the sixteenth century. Islamic historiography, on the other hand, was enormously rich by the time Bede was writing in the European context and even richer as the European Renaissance approached. Some attention was given to how Islamic historians understood the methodology needed, for example, to determine how the words of the Prophet Muhammad could be verified. This historical culture dissipated after the fifteenth century when movements toward reformation, secularization and attempts to create a public sphere where the veracity of the Koran could be criticized were thwarted.
- The end of the Middle Ages was greeted, arguably, with a Renaissance of ideas, culture and individuality but also, unarguably, with new approaches to the past. These were characterized by a number of notable scholars but most had in common a certain reverence for the ancients as humanism took a fresh prominence. Once again the methods and concerns of the great classical historians – most Roman but some Greek – were celebrated. So too was the civic virtue of the city state. Florence in particular and Italy in general were soon viewed in a renewed light. The attributes that we associate both with antiquity and again with the Renaissance were to have a profound effect on the historiography that was to come after, not least to the revolutionary creed of seventeenth-century England.
- There was some sort of radical shift in the way histories of England were written around 1580. Different types of people began to write histories of the nation. Somewhere between the age of Elizabeth I and the seventeenth-century Civil War, histories of the nation became much less reliant on fantastic accounts of a land of giants based on biblical prophecy and were transformed into histories of rational political and economic government and of constitution. No longer were historians drawn from the church and various civil authorities; now they tended to be antiquarians taken from a rising class of new professionals who, like Clarendon and Camden, rarely strayed from accounts that could be empirically verified, i.e. proved by the use of our senses. The sources that historians used also changed. Further, this transformation could not have happened without the influence of Italian humanism based upon the characteristics of human beings free from any mystical influence.
Further reading* essential
* Chris Given-Wilson (2004) Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval Britain.
Deals with a relatively short time span (c.1270–1430), yet gives a sophisticated account of late-medieval or early-modern historiography, asking essential questions about the writing and practicing of history in this period.
Bede (1999) The Ecclesiastical History of the English, ed. Judith McClure.
This is an invaluable complement to this chapter. It is best read alongside Penguin’s Age of Bede, reprinted in 2004.
* Paolo Delogu (2002) An Introduction to Medieval History.
Translated from the Italian, this short volume is fantastically rich both in its treatment of historians and chroniclers over a long period (longer than that covered by Given-Wilson) and is very comprehensive in its discussion of medieval history across Europe, paying particular attention to developments in individual countries.
* Arnaldo Momigliano (1990) Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography.
This is the definitive work in the field and should be read at all costs, not least for its treatment of diverse religious traditions that interact over time.
* Chase F. Robinson (2003) Islamic Historiography.
Comprehensive and provocative, this take on Islamic historiography is well-researched, clear and accessible to the uninitiated.
* Lucille Kekewich (ed.) (2000) The Impact of Humanism: A Cultural Enquiry.
Published to accompany an Open University course and therefore broken down in a way that is easy to understand. It also contains ready-made questions and discussions around the subject area.
Jonathan Woolfson (ed.) (2005) Renaissance Historiography.
This collection of essays is designed to orientate students in the wake of a good deal of recent work on the Renaissance, self-consciously styling itself as an updating of Ferguson (1948). Essays by Peter Burke, James Hankins, Robert Black and Jonathan Woolfson himself are the most useful.
Chapter 5: Enlightenment and Romanticism
- The English Enlightenment?
- Secular histories
- Romanticism, nationalism and the hero in history: Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle
This chapter is concerned with history writing and how the Enlightenment and Romantic movements affected an understanding of the past. New methods of observing phenomena emerged from the seventeenth century in England and in eighteenth-century Scotland and Europe as Enlightenment thinkers attacked the beliefs and assumptions of organized religion. In this respect, the philosopher historians of the eighteenth century, David Hume (1711–1776) and Edward Gibbon (1737–1794), were the most important while the more modern methods of the Scot, William Robertson (1721–1793), pointed us towards historiography as it developed in the nineteenth century. Also a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, Adam Smith (1723–1790) both constructed a blueprint for capitalist economics, and described how societies changed and developed. In contrast to the reason, order, symmetry and harmony that are associated with the Enlightenment, Romantic notions of nationalism and heroism impacted on the writing of history in the modern period. Here, we will explore the significance of freethinking, emotionalism, spiritualism and a profound engagement with nature to the growth in the nineteenth century of Romanticism.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- The Enlightenment affected the writing and understanding of history. Specifically this is to recall its beginnings in eighteenth century France and Germany or, alternatively, the contribution made through empirical or observational natural science that can be traced back to seventeenth century Britain. The contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment is especially noted. The main aim of the section is to say something about the importance of secular approaches to the past in the work of Hume, Smith and Gibbon. The section concludes with a short discussion of William Robertson – a great figure of his time – who combined Enlightenment rational method with Romantic religiosity and respect for cultural diversity in the past.
- Romanticism as a phenomenon ran counter to the Enlightenment but also grew out of it. In particular, we are keen to establish how a more mystical, spiritual and emotional approach to the world affected historical practice. The fixation of nationalism and national heroes, folklore and the effort to retrieve a world that existed before the voraciousness of industrialization is discussed by looking closely at the contribution to history of Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle. Where Scott described the wildness of his native Scots borders in order to allow us to imagine the past, Carlyle fashioned his histories and his approach to the past through biography, both personal and collective. Each viewed the modern world with a certain amount of regret as they each understood that the world that they once knew was slipping beyond memory.
- Continental Enlightenment and Romanticism influenced early attempts to describe and then to claim the new lands of North America, from ‘sea to shining sea’. Imagination, culture, language, myth and subjectivity came into historical view with the work of Herder, Michelet and Vico. These were all Europeans who directly influenced approaches to the past in the New World. These departures, from what one contemporary com mentator called ‘Enlightenment dogma’, opened up new historical vistas by beginning the process of distancing history from the natural sciences. From these commentators, moreover, we can see one upshot of the Enlightenment: the American faith in historical or ‘manifest destiny’ and the supposed universal human longing for democracy and liberty.
Further reading* essential
* Isaiah Berlin (1976) Vico and Herder, esp. pp. 3–142.
An innovative approach to the work of two fundamentally important commentators of what Berlin thinks of as the ‘counter-Enlightenment’; that is, the movement that ran against some of the dogmas of rationality and science. It is worth reading closely as it is often quoted by historians and philosophers working in this important area.
Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf and Iain McCalman (eds) (2004) The Enlightenment World.
A collection of essays that deal with the origins of the Enlightenment, the so-called High Enlightenment, science, popular culture, print culture and so on. Probably the most useful are those dealing with origins and historical writing.
Edward Gibbon (1998) The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The introduction is a useful and close analysis, not just on the contribution of this marvellous historian and commentator of his own time, but on Gibbon’s literary and performative style. Gibbon’s chapters on Christianity should be read especially carefully, not least because of the impact they made in Gibbon’s society.
Cecilia Miller (1993) Vico’s Imagination and Historical Imagination.
A monograph that, as the title suggests, deals with the importance of Vico to succeeding historians, but also Vico’s historical methodology, his approach to cycles and spirals of time, and the impact of Vico’s New Science.
* Roy Porter (1995) Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World.
Porter pursues the argument that Britain, not Germany or France, was the cradle of the Enlightenment. His reading of the origins of observational natural science or cosmology is important to the development of history.
G. B. Tennyson (ed) (1984) A Carlyle Reader.
A comprehensive account of Carlyle as social commentator and, more unusually, as historian. Here we can find tracts and speeches by Carlyle which demonstrate history within the context of Romantic notions of nationalism, biography and the hero in history.
Giambattista Vico (1999)  Principi di Scienza Nouva, trans. David March.
A classic of historiography for this period.
Chapter 6: The English Tradition
- Responses to the Enlightenment: Edmund Burke
- Constitutionalism and the Whig interpretation of history
- The ‘new Whigs’? The school of J. H. Plumb
Edmund Burke is the subject of the opening section. He used all his political skills to oppose the French Revolution of 1779 as it turned into a bloody assize. He became an outspoken critic of the excesses of the revolution and mourned both the death of the queen and the passing of an era. As such, he has been seen as a champion of the counter Enlightenment and a forerunner of conservatism, despite his support for the Whig group associated with Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, who had supported the American Revolution as a welcome continuity with the 1688 Glorious Revolution.
The second section outlines the Whig inheritance of the accompanying ‘revolution’ in the understanding of, and regard given to history. From the Magna Carta to the culmination of English liberties in the events that led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Protestant ascendency had resulted, it was thought, in a perfect constitution. It was a constitution that compared favourably with that of the French. Whig history approved those historical players who were allies to the perfecting of the constitution and condemned those who stood in its way.
Whig history was, then, present minded in that it judged the past in the light of the present. This led to a school of history practice and outlook that the third section argues can be traced via Macaulay and then Trevelyan to his student Jack Plumb, and now to a coterie of ‘New Whig’ Cambridge historians – Linda Colley, David Cannadine, Simon Schama, Roy Porter and others such as Neil McKendrick and John Vincent – who were taught by or were profoundly influenced by Plumb.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- For Edmund Burke, progress was to be made by natural processes which emerged out of a time-forged experience rather (as in France) by conscious human intervention which sought to impose a blueprint on history based on nothing but hope and conjecture. Equilibrium in society and the elimination of social ills such as poverty – if possible at all – could be achieved only by allowing the laws of economics to work uninhibited. Human nature was assumed to be imperfect, which ruled out any notion of a perfect society. Utopian political solutions, therefore, would not work because human beings could not be trusted to act with true rationality and to live in harmony with their fellows unless society has been matured in history, tried and tested over centuries. This was an organic view of society and history with society itself seen as machine that could not be tampered with because each component (individual) of society is tied to the survival and well-being of others as a living and breathing organism. He opposed, therefore, equality, popular representation, popular sovereignty, universal franchise or majority rule (as being despotic). But, he did favour order, co-operation in society, restraints on government, and the supremacy of law that could be natural, divine or customary; that is; like seeds in a garden, society would development slowly with minimal intervention. Affinities to the ‘little platoons’ of society, to the binds of local affections and sympathies, ‘the generous loyalty to rank and sex’ should be spontaneous, not forced, and were preferable to loyalties of class or even of nation. Above all, change should be considered and rooted in the sureties of past behaviour.
- The whig interpretation of history concentrated on national histories that celebrated constitutionalism. In particular, this meant a selection of evidence that picked winners from the past who enhanced and supported the perfecting English constitution and condemned those that remained in opposition to it. This constitutional settlement, reckoned to be the most flexible and equitable that had ever been forged by human hand, in the political and religious heat of the seventeenth century, was underwritten by Protestantism that itself protected the Englishman from the absolutist tyranny of the Church of Rome. The task of the historian was a very public one: to inform decision makers about the dangers of abandoning the constitution and the advantages of sticking to it. The whig interpretation was part of a liberal tradition of historical thought, nonetheless, that produced giants in the field such as Macaulay and Trevelyan. By the time Sir Herbert Butterfield published his book on the whig interpretation of history in 1931, the approach taken by so-called whig historians was already being criticised.
- The need to write histories of the nation have become no less urgent. Looking initially at the influential work of Linda Colley, which has its origins in a concern about national identity in our multi-cultural present, a school of history is identified that gathered, however informally, around the influential figure of Jack Plumb at Christ’s College, Cambridge. As Plumb was a doctoral student of Trevelyan, so Colley was a student under Plumb. She was not alone. Simon Schama, Roy Porter, Niall Ferguson and others such as Neil McKendrick and John Vincent were taught by Plumb while others such as Sir David Cannadine (husband to Colley) were profoundly influenced by him. In the wake of Plumb’s conversion to Thatcherism before his death in 2001, these ‘new whigs’ have written popular, present-minded, English-centred histories of Britain for a democratic, popular audience with – like Trevelyan and Plumb – an emphasis on good writing and constitutional politics.
Further reading* essential
* J. W. Barrow (1981) A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past.
Now a classic text. Its argument for coherent Burkean whig tradition takes in some of the important figures we touched on in this chapter, such as Macaulay and Stubbs, as well as others, such as Froude. The chapter ‘Protestant Island’ is especially useful.
Stefan Collin (1999) English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture.
Presented as a series of essays on England and Englishness. His opening chapter on ‘Writing the National History: Trevelyan and After’, along with the introduction, is especially useful to themes covered in this chapter.
Frank Smith Fussner (2010)  The Historical Revolution: English Historical Writing and Thought, 1580–1640.
This is an invaluable volume that deals in comprehensive terms with what the author calls the intellectual revolution that fundamentally changed both writing generally and history writing. The result was different types of history books and different types of historians.
Peter Ghosh (1999) ‘Whig Interpretation of History’, in K. Boyd (ed.), Encyclopedia of Historians and History Writing.
A succinct and forceful statement of the importance and genesis of the whig interpretation. It combines both useful definition and a commentary of the genre. It is particularly strong as an interpretation of Butterfield and how Butterfield has been understood and used by historians.
J. R. Plumb (1988) The Making of an Historian: The Collected Essays of J. R. Plumb.
Fascinating for its account of Plumb’s life at Cambridge and his encounters with Trevelyan, Butterfield and Namier. The first volume is especially pertinent in this respect and is often very insightful and very sharp in its observations.
J. R. Plumb (2004)  The Death of the Past.
A well-known work or commentary on historiography and historical practice that makes the case above all for the social uses of history. The 2004 edition is especially useful as it contains a preface by Simon Schama and an introduction by Niall Ferguson.
D. R. Woolf (2000) Reading History in Early Modern England.
An essential read for a thorough coverage of this topic area. As stated in the introduction, it is a history book about history books that seeks to place early modern historiography firmly in its social context. The opening chapter ‘Death of the Chronicle’ is very useful for our purposes.
Chapter 7: The North American Tradition
- America and the New Order of the Ages
- The progressive or ‘new’ historians
- The consensus historians
- The other America
The one-dollar bill reflects the development of American approaches to the past. First issued in 1862, its focus has been both the founding constitution and the vicissitudes of the nation. As such, it has altered – like historians in the United States have altered – with the changing political, social and economic weather and like the US itself, the bill has been redeemed and reinvented on numerous occasions, often in the teeth of hardship and conflict. The reverse side of the ever-popular ‘buck’ gives us in narrowly expressive terms the section headers from which changes to north American historiography will be described and analysed in the course of this chapter. Constant is the Great Seal of the United States, which acts for the various arms of the state as the national coat of arms and which has been in use since 1782, although it wasn’t added to the dollar bill until 1935. On the back, we can see the object of our opening section: histories that begin with the desolate landscape of the pre-European America and the all-seeing eye of providence. Roman numerals (MDCCLXXVI) spell out the date when the 13 colonies gained independence from Great Britain (1776). Among other Latin phrases, we can spot a banner which shouts Novus Ordo Seclorum or the ‘New Order of the Ages’ and which gives notice for the era of Pax Americanus. How historians responded to this instituting moment of the United States of America is also discussed in the opening section. Of those Latin phrases, ‘Out of many states, one nation’, until 1956 a motto of the country, probably best sums of the changes in American approaches to the past reviewed in sections 2 and 3. From the Progressive historians who moved beyond the so-called ‘frontier thesis’ to a fundamental questioning of the motivations and interests of the founders, to the Consensus historians who shifted from the class-based, social scientific and largely secular viewpoints that had dominated up until the Second World War. It was probably no accident that in the context in which these historians lived and wrote was the Cold War and the Age of Affluence; by 1957, ‘In God We Trust’ had been included by law on the one-dollar ‘greenback’. The final section of the chapter moves the great American story away from the narrow confines of constitution, economic interests and American exceptionalism, in order to take into account narratives connected to the experiences of black people, the oppressed and the poor, the local and encounters with those who were not American.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Originally from Europe (England), Thomas Cole was part of the Hudson River School of art that recorded on canvas the vast fragility of an ever expanding nation. Europeans like Cole and George Bancroft brought with them various Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment ideas which had at their core some key intellectual assumptions about the role of the past. Here Herder, Michelet and Vico are identified as chief influencers. These strands are picked up by the all-powerful American Historical Association (AHA) and become popular inside and outside of the academy by whiggish figures such as Bancroft but also by historians such as Arthur Schlesinger, who identified the American as a ‘new man’. By 1893, as president of the AHA and a Harvard professor, he could speak convincingly about the importance of the West to the growth of the American as ‘rugged individualist’. The experience of the expansion to the West, the so-called ‘frontier thesis as it was articulated by Frederick Jackson Turner,’ became the foundational myth of American historiography. This account that saw the expansion to the West as transformative was to endure for a hundred years: ‘the type and master of our American life’ which was to ultimately lead this mighty new country away from European influence.
- Charles Beard was perhaps the central figure in challenging the ‘frontier thesis’. With others such as Carl Becker, James Harvey Robinson and V. L. Partington, the Becker/Beard thesis took the American narrative back to the founding moment of the Constitution. The Progressive historians (as they became known) saw class, power and special interests as central to the development of the United States and the consequent slow break from European influence. Beard’s main focus was economic yet this approach was not economically determinist with simultaneous attention paid to ‘political man,’ particularly the attention given to the Bill of Rights and the Federalists among the so-called ‘founding fathers’, as much as ‘economic man’ – those plantation and slave owners, it was thought, had deployed inappropriate influence on the drafting of the Constitution.
- If Beard was the eminence grise of American historiography in the early part of the twentieth century, then a more formal distinction passed to Richard Hofstander and others in the post-1945 era. Some of these figures had moved away from progressive positions. The triumphs of war had ushered in a nationalism that emphasized American exceptionalism as the home of liberty and prosperity. ‘National character’ replaced internal division and class strife as historical categories while historiography adopted the lines and grids set fast by the enveloping Cold War. The Consensus historians lived under the shadow of the bomb but declared that ‘In God They Trust’. The past was seen then through the political and economic ascendency of the United States while the newly found ‘affluent worker’ hardly noticed (and cared less about) the retreat of radical interpretations of American history. Yet a new chronology was forged for the nation which had begun in the late eighteenth century under the imperial thumb but which now, in the 1960s, cultural pressures undermined post-war liberal and affluent pluralism.
- The ‘Other America’ was emerging. It had always been there, of course, but now workers, socialists, black people and women were brought to the front of American historiography. Historians such as W.E.B. Du Bois wanted to explore the historical experiences of those non-white and non-Christian. Marxism and New Left approaches to the past by brilliant newcomers such as Eric Williams gained renewed currency as the lives of slaves, the slave trade and its abolition were rescued from oblivion. This brought sharply into relief the contradictions of the Constitution. It had promised individual freedom but then made that freedom divisible and dependent on a test of race or class. This further undermined the case for consensus as it emerged just how many had been left outside that consensus. Here we find that the work of David Brion Davis has been particularly noteworthy while non-American historians such as Stephen Tuck have made American history transnational in scope and ambition.
Barton Bernstein (ed.) (1968) Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History.
Although uneven and variously presented these essays are a representative sample of the liberal or Marxist or Charles Beard era-influenced histories that signify a particular period.
Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman (1974) Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery.
There is a more recent edition (1995). This controversial collaboration promoted a thesis that looked closely at the economics of slave ownership and came out with conclusions that remain bitterly contested.
L.W. Levine (1977) Black Culture and Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom.
This was an important book that looked closely at black culture such as song and folk tales as a way of looking at some neglected areas of the African American experience.
* Peter Novick (1988) That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession.
This serves as an engaging overview of the importance of objectivity in the large and mighty historical profession in America.
Stephen Skowronek (2005)The Search for American Political Development.
Not only for historians but also for economists and political scientists and focuses on politics and political affairs
* Stephen Tuck (2005) ‘The New American Histories’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 811–832.
This is an excellent overview to be read at all costs.
Chapter 8: Histories of revolutions; revolutionary histories
- Thomas Paine and the radical tradition
- Contemporary responses to the American and French revolutions
- Germany, G.W.F. Hegel and the Spirit of History
- Karl Marx and ‘historical materialism’
- Marxism in the twentieth century
This chapter explores through the eyes of protagonists the revolutionary impulses which convulsed the western world in the latter stages of the eighteenth century, and their legacy for political activists aspiring to world revolution in the ensuing decades. The American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789 and the resurgence of popular radicalism in Britain during the 1790s together point to a massive shift in the world order, the reverberations from which affected every corner of the globe, and continue to this day. Signs of change had been apparent for decades to those who cared to look for them. Calls for freedom from the constraints of the ancien régime which found voice in the writings of leading French philosophes reached a crescendo in the 1760s. Simultaneously, in London the charismatic John Wilkes orchestrated popular resentment against the monarchy and an aristocratic parliament to press for radical reform. From 1760 to 1775, pamphlets and newspapers helped foster a radical culture in the American states which led ultimately to the War of Independence. Widespread protests in the major cities against the imposition of the 1765 Stamp Act forced its repeal in the following year. This about turn may have pre-empted open rebellion against British rule, but the protest had helped to define grievances, and in many respects acted as a blueprint for the revolutionary struggles of the next decade.
There were shared ideals which shaped the revolutions, many inherited from Enlightenment thought and recognized by protagonists as having the power to change the world order. Overall, they are perhaps captured best in the slogan ‘Liberté, egalité, fraternité’, although how they played out differed from one context to another – in America, for example, such ideals did not apply to the large population of slaves. At their core were the notions of liberty and equality. Liberty meant self-determination, that is, the right for the citizenry to overthrow oppressive, corrupt and arbitrary forms of rule, and so determine and realize its collective will. Equality was based on the idea that all men and woman are equal before nature, and that this equality entitles us to certain rights which need to be protected by the law. Enshrined in America’s Declaration of Independence (1776) and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), these ideals were considered ‘self evident’ truths. The Declaration famously advanced the notion, for example, that ‘all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’. France’s Declaration, which consciously drew upon that of America, declared ‘All men are equal by nature and before the law’, and set forth a programme of individual and collective rights protected when threatened by any government that seeks to violate them.
How did historians respond to these momentous events? Were they enthusiastically welcomed as harbingers of a more just new world, or feared because they overthrew centuries of tradition, and led to unrestrained violence? And to what extent did they influence later historians of revolutions? These are the questions to which we now need to devote attention.
The five sections of this chapter said five things:
- The radical impulses that led to both the American and French Revolutions were related and simultaneously different. 1776 was the culmination of discontent over the constitutional rights of the American Colonists within the context of what had essentially been shared values, a shared constitution and common links of kinship. 1779 turned the world upside down. This was not remotely a continuity of either politics or manners but an attempt to change property relations and alter the very essence of human nature. Support for both revolutions came together in the person of Thomas Paine. His Common Sense and Rights of Man make an immense impact both intellectually and in praxis.
- Contemporary responses to the both the American and French Revolutions were widespread and formative from George Bancroft in America to Alexis de Tocqueville and Jules Michelet in Europe. Perhaps the definitive response to both seminal events came in the person of Edmund Burke. This philosopher and practical politician supported the American bid for independence as the standard-bearers of the English constitution as established by the Glorious Revolution of 1666 and trenchantly opposed the French adventure as an improbable and a potentially murderous leap into the unknown, ill-informed by history.
- The philosophy of history as outlined by Hegel is vitally important to understand in its own right. Although Hegel was an immensely important figure as a philosopher, he is now set firmly within the context of the German Enlightenment. Critically, Hegel argued for a view of world history that had the notion of a ‘spirit’ or ‘idea’ that ran through history. This spirit was peculiar to the German nation and a specific national development that is known to us as the Sonderweg. Hegel’s major gift to Marx (and to both Left Hegelians and Right Hegelians alike) was the idea that history was dialectical; that is, it moves forward by the clash of opposing ideas. It is this dialectic that Marx adapted in his own theory of history.
- Historical materialism as set out by Marx was adapted from Hegel. Here we learn how the Hegelian notion of ‘spirit’ or ‘ideas’ that run through world history is turned upside down. Instead the material conditions of human existence – the forces and relations of production – can explain historical change. This theory of history has been enormously important to historians and has been used as a framework for many histories. The effectiveness of historical materialism can now be seen clearly in the wake of the terminal decline of Marxism as a practical and actually existing politics and as a theory of history that can offer a comprehensive explanation of the past and the present alike, both explaining the world and simultaneously changing it.
- Arguments within Marxism have affected historiography since the 1960s and 1970s. The crisis in communism forced a reassessment of Marxist approaches to history as evidenced by the Communist Party Historians Group, E. P. Thompson and Perry Anderson. We finish with the historian Gareth Stedman Jones, who by emphasizing the metaphysical basis of Marxist theories of history has sought to place Marx back into the context of the Enlightenment and its legacy.
Further reading* essential
Bernard Bailyn (1992) The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
An authoritative survey of one of the most fascinating aspects of the American revolution, demonstrating the full and complex range of political currents which fed into it.
Hedva Ben-Israel (1968) English Historians on the French Revolution.
A somewhat dated but still invaluable guide to how English historians tackled the French Revolution. Comprehensive and intelligent.
Thomas Carlyle (2010)  Carlyle’s French Revolution, ed. Ruth Scurr.
With the publication of Carlyle’s study, English accounts of the French Revolution came of age. It is still a good read, even if it does not stand up to the rigours of modern historical investigation.
Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker (2000) The Many-Headed Hydra. The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.
A wonderfully engaging account of how the radical culture of seventeenth-century England was sustained by the Atlantic maritime community.
Iain McCalman (ed) (1999) An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. British Culture 1776–1832.
The best survey of the culture and politics of this vital period in modern British history when radicalism was at its height.
* Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (2002)  The Communist Manifesto.
An excellent edition of this seminal work with a fine introduction by Gareth Stedman Jones. Short and reasonably accessible, it was the first attempt by Marx and Engels to lay out a theory of revolution.
Chapter 9: Postmodernism and postcolonialism
- Modernity and the Enlightenment
- Postcolonialism and the West
In many respects this chapter carries forward the debate introduced in Chapter 1 on the status of historical knowledge. There we discussed the problem of historical truth, and whether or not it was attainable. In recent years these concerns have intensified, as a result of which the debate has taken some perhaps unexpected twists and turns which have occurred against the backdrop of a changing world order. The experience of the Second World War and the immediate post-war period in Europe transformed an order based on the possession of colonies by western powers; instead, this period witnessed the demise of the imperial order as colonies fought successfully for their independence from foreign rule, and the rise of new superpowers, and it was these that redefined the balance of power. The new order, it was argued by theoretically driven historians, could not be interpreted by the conventional methods of history. Not only that, the horrors of the experience of colonial rule and the Second World War threw into crisis any belief that the West – and Enlightenment thought upon which it was built – could claim superiority over the non-Western world. Indeed, for some, the distinct historical trajectory which purported to describe an inevitable rise of the West was no longer tenable.
These events forced a fundamental re-examination of the historiographical approaches which had sprung from the Enlightenment to create two new fields of intellectual inquiry – postmodernism and postcolonialism. Although addressing different historical concerns they shared certain suspicions of traditional historiography, in particular those related to the operation of specific types of narratives. By abandoning such narratives, it was argued, history would be released from a straitjacket. This promise, however, posed its own sets of awkward questions, most of which remain unresolved. It is this process which we wish to examine in the chapter.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- The Second World War and its aftermath had a profound impact on the nature of historical thinking. Seen either as the end of the Enlightenment project or the supersession of modernity by postmodernity, what was apparent to contemporary observers was that they had entered into a new historical era, the analysis of which was not necessarily amenable to the tools of conventional analysis. The formal demise of the Enlightenment project was brought about by a loss of confidence in the idea of progress which had been driven and controlled by western civilization, while postmodernity heralded novel ways of organizing production, using space and creating cultural forms increasingly reliant on visual imagery.
- These changes engendered an acute sense that the past could no longer be understood using grand narratives, whether they be of progress, liberalization, democratization or empowerment. All historical frameworks which in various ways were framed by such narratives were therefore treated with growing suspicion because they were seen to impose overarching structures on the historical record in order to provide a sense of order. Postmodern historians have therefore argued consistently for the contingent nature of historical knowledge, and a degree of relativism in history is subject to competing accounts, all of which have legitimacy and value.
- This same period witnessed the closure of European empires. In ways that drew upon postmodern thought, historians of empire began seriously to question narratives of the imperial experience which had promoted the agency of Europeans and any idea of progress and Enlightenment which had been seen to accompany imperial endeavour. Postcolonial historians therefore subjected to detailed scrutiny the record of European imperialism as a means of exposing its exploitative and in many ways regressive nature. In order to redress past neglect, they also embarked on a project to write into the imperial experience those colonized subjects – in particular the urban and rural poor – who had been systematically excluded from dominant accounts.
Further reading* essential
Homi Bhabha (1994)The Location of Culture.
An influential collection of pieces by one of the leading postcolonial thinkers in which he reflects upon the colonial experience. Not for the faint-hearted because it is imbued with difficult theorising.
Vinayak Chaturvedi (ed.) (2000), Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial.
A collection of recent articles which have debated the approaches of Subaltern Studies. Scholarly and provocative, but not easy-going.
Peter Childs and Patrick Williams (1997) An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory.
Accessible and knowledgeable, this is probably the best introduction to the topic.
* David Harvey (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity.
Written by a geographer, this is one of the most insightful analyses of modernity and postmodernity. Harvey successfully takes from postmodernism what he considers useful, but at the same times clings to the radical potential of a more orthodox Marxist historiography.
* Keith Jenkins (ed.) (1997) The Postmodern History Reader.
The best single collection of articles written by a wide range of interested parties on the question of postmodernism. Some of the most critical perspectives are included; tough at times, but the material is valuable.
* Edward Said (1991) Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient.
Although flawed, this remains one of the few examples of a book which has founded a new discipline. Surprisingly accessible, always engaging.
Robert Young (2001) Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction.
The definitive study of how postcolonial theory emerged from anticolonial struggles around the world. It is almost a history of the world written around narratives of resistance.
Chapter 10: Political history
- Theories of the state
- High and low politics: the case of the British Labour Party
- Beyond state and party: political theories and civil society
Approaches to political history have traditionally been divided. On the one hand, histories of the structures of state and government have relied on high theory and ‘long’ histories with empirical facts sometimes sparse and thin on the ground. On the other hand, when evidence-driven history has been brought to bear over a long period and across vast spaces, the results have been both impressive and useful to the historian. The theory of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’, for example, has influentially been used to explain the relative decline of the British economy by focusing on the role of the state and finance capitalism. A discussion on the challenges in finding workable theories of the state comprises the opening section.
High politics and the history of elites has been the preserve of historians who have placed emphasis on the importance of decision-making in the political process. Its sources have been specifically concerned with the private motivations of historical actors in critical positions of power and influence. Popular or ‘low’ political history has focused on structures of power such as political parties. The second section of the chapter, therefore, examines the evolution of the British Labour party from both perspectives: the high politics of its leaders, plus the role of electoral sociology that determined its development as a political movement.
We return to the City in the final section in order to understand how extra-parliamentary pressure in the clubs, societies and associations of the square mile acted as important political levers in the transformation of radicalism and liberalism in late nineteenth-century Britain.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- Historians require an understanding of the state and its works. After all, the state is a structure of human organization that governs or influences political, economic, social and cultural affairs. State formation is also often linked with the process of becoming modern such as the experience of the ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ with the City of London as a locus of financial activity but also as a community which is a theme we pursue in section 3. Historians have turned to theorists of the state in order to best understand this historical and changing phenomenon and have also attempted themselves to see the state over long periods and in a multitude of places. Historians, sociologists and political theorists such as Perry Anderson, Charles Tilly, Michael Mann, Immanuel Wallerstein, Theda Skocpol and others have been especially interested in grand narratives that concern questions of power, authority, capital, conflict, class and other state structures.
- Political history is concerned with politics and politics is largely about power relations in society, and so its potential brief is extremely wide. In practice, however, political historians have devoted themselves to the study of political organisations which have impacted upon the formal, parliamentary arena. Using a case study of the rise of the Labour Party, we show that the study of politics – narrowly defined – can be approached in different ways. An older tradition focused on the role of influential figures and their hold over strategic decision making almost exclusively in the field of formal party politics. Underlying this was the premise that to an extent these individuals lived in rarefied atmospheres, taking key decisions not on the basis of any preconceived ideas or rooted in particular ideologies, but often because they were impelled by peculiar circumstances of the moment, or because of distinctive personal traits. In part as a response to this, there has emerged more recently an approach which is rather more interested in the extent to which the arena of formal politics reflected wider social movements, in the case of the Labour Party, its relationship to working-class culture and behaviour. This approach to politics has also been more concerned to move beyond the boundaries of formal politics to consider political events and movements of all shades of opinion in the extra-parliamentary sphere.
- Returning to the case study of the City, we can see how in the eighteenth century the cry ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ argued for the rights of the American colonials but also for the rights of extra-parliamentary political activity. If the City and the City’s government championed this approach it also was to transform the relationship between state and civil society, becoming decidedly less radical by the end of the nineteenth century. City businessmen and aldermen alike disappeared behind closed doors, relaxing into the leather armchairs of member limited associations dedicated to personal and property rights and imperialism. These clubs influenced political parties as once Wilkes had pressured the Whigs but reinvented the Liberals, remade the Conservative Party and saw the eventual emergence of the Labour Party which offered in the twentieth century a collectivist alternative to previously dominant liberal and Individualist ideologies.
Further reading* essential
Perry Anderson (1975) Lineages of the Absolutist State.
A wide-ranging study of state formations across the globe which draws upon Marxist theory but attempts – not always successfully – to avoid simplistic schemes of historical change.
* Peter Cain and A. G. Hopkins (2001) British Imperialism, 1688–2000.
A pioneering study of the political economy of British imperialism which influentially drew upon the notion of gentlemanly capitalism.
Maurice Cowling (1971) The Impact of Labour.
A study of politics which focuses on the minutiae of decision making among the political elite, thereby avoiding all grand narratives which see political change as the inevitable outcome of more fundamental societal forces.
Duncan Tanner (1990) Political Change and the Labour Party.
A detailed study of the party which stresses the important of considering the local rather than the national, written by an important figure in political history before an untimely death cut short much promise.
Chapter 11: Economic history
- Economics, population and social change
- Economic historians and the big historical questions
- The business of business history
Economic history has a massive influence on the wider discipline of history, even if it has become a little unfashionable in recent years. Marxist history has particularly benefited from a concentration on what it would call the ‘economic base’ of historical societies but more generally economic history has been sufficiently strong in the recent past to have maintained academic departments separate from ‘straight’ history and a number of dedicated professional journals. Economic history can reasonably claim to explain societies holistically while working on data (often by the application of the most up-to-date technology) which raise fresh questions about past societies. The opening section of the chapter examines how population data can unpick the shape of past societies; while the methods of economic history (with help from other disciplines such as archaeology) can add significantly to our historical knowledge. The second section focuses upon the contribution by economic historians to the understanding of wealth and poverty over centuries; in particular, we are concerned with the role of luxury and luxury goods in the modernising process and the way that historians have dealt with pessimistic and optimistic approaches to industrialisation; that is, economic understandings of industrialisation that argue whether the industrial revolution benefited the economic lives of contemporaries. The final section of the chapter switches attention to the role that business historians play in understanding past societies, defining and explaining the relationship of business history to economic history.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- The parameters of economic history are wide but its modern origins lay in the 1880s when social inequalities were startlingly obvious and there was a backdrop of economic decline. It is suggested that economic history deals not with money per se but with the distribution of resources. The Eyam plague is examined as a way of discussing what it is that economic historians do – both those historians that are concerned with a more ‘number-crunching’ approach and those content to use evidence that is more richly contextualised. The uses of quantitative and qualitative evidence are discussed, and questions about how wide the concerns of economic historians go are addressed. It is also an opportunity to explain the Marxist strand of economic history and to introduce an approach within economic history that looks at population, family fertility, migration patterns and so on. We then have a rounded way of explaining the phenomenon of the seventeenth-century plague at Eyam but also the approach to the economic history of epidemics more generally.
- Production and consumption, poverty and luxury have all played important roles in the debates within economic history, but now, it can be argued, this role has been challenged by a fresh historiography. Indeed, the growth of a luxury economy is traced through the way economic historians have explained the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and how both consumption and production as issues in the economy are still problems for the historian of industrialisation to understand. This section ends with a description of the ‘optimist’ versus ‘pessimist’ contribution to the so-called standard of living debate and the way that economic historians of every kind have sought to explain and assess the industrial revolution, but also how this debate gives an insight into (1) the sources used by economic historians and (2) how they evaluate these sources.
- The growing importance of business history to economic history more generally and how it is derived from interests in the micro concerns of the firm as much as the aggregated and macro concerns of the national economy. It is explained that in the modern period at least, the history of the company is a history that by definition tends to be wide ranging: from the history of a corporation to the history of the so-called knowledge economy, where information and its distribution is now under the auspices of economic and business history. Finally, the growing importance of new archives to the writing of these histories is dissected as a way of extending the discussion throughout the chapter on sources and their uses.
Further reading* essential
Maxine Berg (2005) Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth Century Britain .
Berg makes an important intervention in economic debates by making the case for consumption (as well as production) as the main source of change, both industrial change and changes in the manners and mores of the urban middle class.
D. C. Coleman (1992) Myth, History and the Industrial Revolution.
Contains some excellent and important essays. Chief among them are ‘Industrial Growth and Industrial Revolutions’, ‘Gentlemen and Players’ and ‘The Uses and Abuses of Business History’.
Christopher Dyer (2009) Making a Living in the Middle Ages: The People of Britain 850–1520.
A survey of the economy of the centuries that spanned the Viking invasion to the Reformation. Its early reflection on approaches to the economic history of medieval Britain is invaluable.
Andrew Hinde (2003) England’s Population.
Provides an excellent introduction to the demographic history of England. It not only uses sources but explains them and does so in the medieval and early modern periods up to the twentieth century.
* David Landes (1999) The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.
A controversial book that brings the growth and importance of modernity and industrial development back to Europe, asserting that its advancement was ultimately down to its Protestantism, its climate and its approach to science. This book is especially interesting for us because it is an economic history that examines the importance of culture not simply economic data.
N.J.G. Pounds (1994) Economic History of Medieval Europe.
An excellent account of its subject area but also a very good example of how economic history approaches can assist historical understanding over a long period.
* Gareth Stedman Jones (2004) An End to Poverty: An Historical Debate.
A comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the history of poverty from a very influential social historian. It examines closely historical debates about the economy and the role of poverty and the poor in it.
* Bryan Ward-Perkins (2005) The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.
An extraordinary intervention on a well-worn area of historiography – the reasons that surround the decline of Rome in the West. Ward-Perkins takes a resolute approach that challenges historical conventions using economic history throughout.
* E. A. Wrigley (1990) Continuity, Chance and Change.
An amazing example of an informed scholar taking an argumentative stand and offering a provocative hypothesis. Since challenged by empirical research, it has remained an exemplar of how to frame the industrial revolution and is an invaluable spur to research for students.
For some excellent pamphlets written in the late 1980s to early 1990s in the ReFRESH series on the industrial revolution, women and the standard of living, go to the Economic History Society website at http://www.ehs.org.uk/the-society/refresh.html.
Chapter 12: Social History
- The emergence of social history
- Class and authority
- The family in history
- The social history of faith
The chapter explores the contribution of social history to historical inquiry. Often thought in the past to be a somewhat marginal interest, devoted for the most part to aspects of the human experience which were trivial when compared with weightier matters such as politics, recent years have witnessed a sharp growth in studies broadly under the umbrella of social history. In addition, the deep-seated suspicion among historians that sociologists are concerned to elaborate universal laws began to recede as they found sociological concepts of value in interpreting historical evidence. The result has been a widening of the historiographical agenda, and a flowering of interest in topics such as leisure, language, rituals and customs that have defined our social lives.
No theme has attracted more interest than class, and in the second section we examine the ways in which social historians have found the concept of value in social stratification. The initial interest was provoked by the writings of Marx who placed class centre stage. This notion has proved to be extremely fertile, particularly in those historical inquiries concerned with changing societal relationships, but in recent years, and largely under the influence of feminist and postcolonial historians, class has been displaced by gender and race. The third section then discusses one of the other organizing concepts of social history, namely, the family. In full recognition of its longevity and near universality, sociologists and social historians have long been interested in the family. There have been diverse approaches, however, which foregrounded different aspects of the family experience, often leading to different conclusions about its role in past and present societies. Lastly we turn to the social history of faith and the sociology of religion in order to examine the practical utility of sociology (particularly the contribution of Durkheim, Weber and Marx) to the historian.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Sociology as a discipline has a history of its own, and may be seen to use theory excessively and generate data in the present, but nevertheless has proved to be of distinct use to historians. Looking at how we might understand mutiny through sociological understandings of bureaucracy and authority, for example, we can see precisely why historians should be interested in sociology. On the one hand, if we use ideas from Max Weber about how individuals behave within a bureaucracy, then it is a small leap (one taken by Ashworth) to investigate the particular circumstances of, say, the French or Russian mutinies of 1917. From this model, we can discover similarities and differences between each when the danger might have been to miss patterns or join up historical dots when it was inappropriate so to do. Historians, on the other hand, who seek to go beyond sociological modelling because they are sceptical of its ability to provide explanations for particular historical phenomena, have sometimes missed a valuable insight.
- Looking at the working class cultures of the coalfields of North-East England, we found how useful sociological notions of social stratification are to the historian. We also discovered that sociology’s tendency to generalise can pose a danger to the aims and objectives of an historian. While it can probably be agreed that modernity – social organisations changing rapidly in the face of industrialisation, secularisation and urbanisation – is the chief concern of sociologists, the use made of it by sociologists has limits. The methods derived from Marx, Durkheim and Weber can be useful but may tend towards generalisations such as ‘the market’ or ‘bureaucracy’ which can be hypothetical or too general for the historian concerned with the particular and the untypical. This said Weber’s constructs of authority and power, especially his notion of charisma, is useful to the historian if used with cautious imagination and confirms that historians can use sociological methods.
- Early sociologists such as Durkheim and Weber took the family seriously as a unit of study, as should historians. Demography has constituted an important factor as has the role of marriage and the wider dynamics of family relationships more generally in both preindustrial and industrial societies. Sentiments within and towards the family, however, vary across cultures and notwithstanding the variations of class and religion. All these areas feed into the family economy and have obvious interest for social historians and are aided by constructs gifted to us by sociology as a separate, if related, discipline. Yet the family is not just an ideological construct but (as the section argues) a functioning economic and social unit which is of profound interest to historians and sociologists alike.
- Secularisation as a process has, until recently, been accepted by both sociologists and historians, although relatively recent research has cast doubt on the application of assumptions regarding the decline of religious affiliation, in whatever form. This research has emphasised surviving forms of religion and religiosity that no longer take conventional forms. Sociological models encourage generalisations based on theory and a ‘process’ but the historian would begin research from another place and would explain secularisation as an historical process in ways quite different from sociology.
Further reading* essential
* Peter Burke (2005) History and Social Theory.
An invaluable text for comparing the uses of social theory for historians. That this is a re-publication of a book whose title once explicitly mentioned sociology as a major concern is perhaps demonstration of the recent relevance sociology has for historians.
British Journal of Sociology, vol. 27, no. 3, Special Issue: History and Sociology (September, 1976).
This special edition of the major journal for sociologists has many articles worth consulting. It was also a symptom at its time of publication how sociology and sociological method was influencing social history of the time. It is certainly worth revisiting.
Peter Saunders (1981) Social Theory and the Urban Question.
An excellent but very theoretical account of Weber, Marx and Durkheim as social theorists, although as the title suggests its focus is very much centred on the urban.
* S.J.D. Green (1996) Religion in the Age of Decline: Organisation and Experience in Industrial Yorkshire 1870–1920.
A wonderful example of modern research on a common problem for sociologists and historians alike: secularisation. The introduction provides an invaluable summary and commentary on the historiographical debate on this subject.
Tony Ashworth (1980) Trench Warfare 1914–1918.
A solid and imaginative example of how sociological theory particularly that derived from Weber can be put to the service of the historian willing to bend theory to fact and not the other way around.
Chapter 13: Cultural history
- Toward a definition of cultural history
- Survival of the carnival
- Empire and the cultural turn
For most of its existence as a distinct discipline, history has tended to neglect culture. Part of the problem was that when compared with the political and economic in human affairs, culture was seen as trivial and inconsequential. How, for example, could songs have had any influence on the important matter of historical change? Another problem was actually in defining the object of inquiry. Since culture was notoriously difficult to define, it was entirely understandable that historians felt a degree of apprehension in approaching it. We review some of these concerns in Section 1, and proceed to argue that despite the reticence among historians there have been pioneering – albeit isolated – studies of what now would be considered cultural history.
All that was to change in the postwar period, when we witnessed a genuine flowering of interest in the cultural sphere. Aided by the questioning of any privileging of the economic, and the emergence of poststructuralism, historians turned with enthusiasm to topics such as art, music, language and customs, so creating a body of exciting and innovative historical work. In Section 2 we take as a case study the carnival, and discuss how historians have approached this extraordinary phenomenon. Arising to become the great form of popular entertainment in medieval Europe, carnival suffused the lives of the whole community, and even following its suppression in the early modern age, tended to shape the course of popular culture.
Finally, in Section 3 we explore how an interest in culture has enriched the study of imperialism. It is now widely accepted that colonial authorities did not rule simply through the exercise of political, economic and military power; arguably of equal if not more importance were interventions in the realms of education, religion and popular culture writ large. Not only that, the experience of imperial endeavor was driven by, and reflected back on metropolitan culture with immense long-term consequences for notions of Britishness.
By exploring cultural history by charting the move from elites in the Italian Renaissance, and the medieval carnival, to history on television we have detected, as in other fields of history, a shift toward the popular in recent years. Cultural historians are now interested in revealing the nature and significance of popular cultural forms which had previously been thought of as trivial and of little worth. Thus the minutiae of daily life – eating, washing, smoking, courting and so on – attract the attention they deserve. The other challenge has come from what we referred to as structuralism, that is, the notion that cultural forms resemble a language and are therefore open to methods developed in linguistics. The task here is to excavate beneath surface appearance to uncover the deep structures that have a profound influence on the course of people’s lives. Cultural historians have created a rich and varied body of work in the past 20 years or so which has greatly extended our understanding of the importance of culture in the lives of people, and hence in explaining the nature of historical change.
The three sections of this chapter said three things:
- Exploring cultural history by charting the move from elites in the Italian Renaissance to history on television we have detected, as in other fields of history, a shift toward the popular in recent years. Cultural historians are now interested in revealing the nature and significance of popular cultural forms which had previously been thought of as trivial and of little worth. Thus the minutiae of daily life – eating, washing, smoking, courting and so on – attract the attention they deserve. The other challenge has come from what we referred to as structuralism, that is, the notion that cultural forms resemble a language and are therefore open to methods developed in linguistics. The task here is to excavate beneath surface appearance to uncover the deep structures that have a profound influence on the course of people’s lives. Cultural historians have created a rich and varied body of work in the past 20 years or so which has greatly extended our understanding of the importance of culture in the lives of people, and hence in explaining the nature of historical change.
- The study of medieval carnival has been one way that cultural historians have been able to record and analyze counter culture in society. Where structuralism (as we saw in the first section) encouraged historians to increase the scrutiny of elites and the mythology in high cultures, popular manifestations of rebellion and revolt have taken historians of culture into spectacularly new and exciting areas to focus on ‘rough music’ or ever-changing ‘speech communities’ that manifested themselves in differing historical moments that challenge authority. In one moment ‘the king becomes a clown, and old truths a comic monster’ and in another parody and mockery are turned into a weapon of transgression or even revolution. Cultural history takes the carnival seriously and gets down to the level of the street; ritual is revealing and language exposes a range of historical possibilities.
- Recent studies of imperialism and the imperial experience have seen a definite focus on culture over the more usual approaches that we associate with the field, namely, military, political and economic spheres. Starting with Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), the ‘cultural turn’ in histories of empire have seen the importance of nationhood and identity, political and urban culture and the expressive aspects of empire from an analysis of advertising to the representation of imperialism in social reform, free trade and religion.
Further reading* essential
* Peter Burke (2008) What is Cultural History?
A valuable guide to historical approaches from a widely published historian in an area in which he is well qualified to comment.
Peter Burke (1997) Varieties of Cultural History.
A lively account of the origins of cultural history that is accompanied by some equally valuable essays on memory, mentalities and gesture.
Lynn Hunt (ed.) (1989) The New Cultural History.
A critical intervention in the subject, it should be read both for its important introduction and for some notable essays, particularly Roger Chartier’s.
Mikhail Bakhtin (1965) Rabelais and His World.
As a study of literary endeavour, this is a book that seeks to understand the nature of marketplace carnival, spectacle, folk humour and laughter, ridicule of elites and sacred texts. Collectively it speaks to a shared consciousness of the power of culture to affect power and challenge repression.
Nicolas Dirks (ed) (1992) Colonialism and Culture.
The imperial state was predicated on knowledge of the cultural forms of its subjects – forms that came to be transformed by the very process that sought to understand them. Culture, according to Dirks ‘was imbricated both in the means and the ends of colonial conquest’, and ‘culture was invented in relationship to a variety of internal colonialisms.’
Chapter 14: Feminism, gender and women’s history
- Feminism and history
- The attack on class
- Gender and identity
This chapter describes how historiography has been transformed by the question of gender, both in the ways that the subject is now researched and written, but also how historians have read evidence to include women and gender issues more generally. The opening section tackles the relationship between gender and class in historical analysis, and investigates how an interest in female experiences in the past has created a considerable and diverse body of work. Approaches have been variously determined by theoretical perspectives including conservative, liberal and Marxist feminisms, which in their various ways have influenced male-centred histories. It is not merely a question of reasserting women into the historical record, but of understanding fully how a concern with gender relationships can provide more satisfying accounts of historical change. In section 2 we examine how feminist work since the 1980s has effectively challenged the primacy previously placed on class to provide nuanced interpretations of such events as the industrial revolution and Italian Renaissance. Finally, in section 3 we explore questions around feminine and masculine identities, and the significance of recent work on witchcraft with due consideration of approaches which borrow from psychoanalytical and linguistic theory.
The three sections of this chapter have said three things:
- That feminism is not simply defined by equal rights but is construed differently from within different ideological positions. Conservative feminism believed that women had natural attributes such as motherhood which were best expressed in a domestic setting. In contrast the public sphere was competitive and the opposite of genteel: the very antithesis of what it meant to be a woman. Liberal feminists recognized these feminine attributes and qualities but argued that the disadvantages of biology, such as child-rearing, could be mitigated by public policy. Marxists originally downplayed gender differences, preferring instead to concentrate on class. The emphasis on gender-led history among female Marxist historians, however, led to dissatisfaction with the Marxist attempt to retain class as the primary means of analyzing inequality in a capitalist society over time. Histories where class was the primary object of analysis were challenged by feminist historians who now insisted that the most important tool for historians was not class analysis but a ‘patriarchy first’ analysis where class exploited class but men, more importantly, exploited women. While this approach proved fatal for Marxism, histories of patriarchy also became questionable. Nor did the ‘domestic ideology debate’ (whereupon men and women occupied public and private spheres respectively) prove satisfactory as an explanation for the role of women in history with liberal, radical and Marxist feminist stances outlasting their conceptual usefulness.
- Women-centred histories in the early days of feminist agitation, especially since 1970, have successfully reintegrated women back into the historical record. By foregrounding women as an object of study, innovative new histories were researched and written by an extraordinary generation of women activists and historians. These women, however, could not go beyond the early and necessary task of reappraising the standard tests used by (male) historians and create histories where men and women were treated together or where the story of women was constructed in the shadow of men. This meant that there were an increasing number of histories of women that concentrated on their exclusion from public life. Women’s bodies and sexuality were stressed as well as their relationship in one way or another to men. These gendered histories, however, became very influential indeed and it is now quite impossible to imagine histories without sensitivity to gender issues. The result in very many cases was to challenge the narrative of male class relations. This section then builds on the last.
- An interest in identity has led to some innovative histories that consider subjective issues such as emotion, fantasy or the unconscious as legitimate areas of historical study. Questions of femininity and masculinity have opened up interesting avenues of inquiry into national and imperial cultures. In the meantime, witchcraft continues to attract enormous interest, and remains useful as a vehicle with which to explore issues around gender, identity, culture and the body that go the very heart of feminist history. Here psychological approaches have moved markedly from experimental phase to become central to the way that women and women’s bodies and mentalities are researched and written. No longer are gendered histories seen as providing ‘balance’ to what was essentially male stories of power and influence but rather whole epochs and periods (such as the Renaissance) have been repositioned, irrevocably repositioned, in a profound way that now effects our narratives of nation but also of how we conceive global histories.
Further reading* essential
Sally Alexander (1984) Becoming a Woman: And Other Essays in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Feminist History.
Alexander has been an important figure in women’s history and feminist studies since she was a student at Ruskin College. These essays represent the intellectual and theoretical development of her work.
Sheila Rowbotham (1973) Hidden from History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight Against It.
Rarely does a history book so perfectly reflect the times in which it was written. Almost a pamphlet for the liberation struggle, it nonetheless is a scholarly attempt to write women back into the historical record.
Joan Kelly (1984) Women, History and Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly.
Contains all her key essays, including ‘Did Women Have a Renaissance?’ and deals with periodization, social analysis and theories of social change from a gendered and feminist standpoint.
Joan W. Scott (1988) Gender and the Politics of History.
This is not a simple read but nonetheless as a collection of essays that span a long and important career in gender history and theory, it is an important one. The sections mentioned explicitly in the text above should especially be consulted.
John Tosh (2005) Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth Century Britain.
An innovative collection of essays that open up a genuine new area of study. His emphasis on both the family and empire effectively explores the interaction between theory, masculinity and patriarchy in history.
Judith M. Bennett (2006) History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism, and (2008) ‘Forgetting the Past’, Gender and History, vol. 20, pp. 669–77.
Bennett very ably makes the case for history in the wider field of gender studies. In the 1970s, she argues, feminism and history were closely linked. Now feminists embrace political and theoretical positions that seemingly don’t need an historical perspective, although patriarchy remains alive and well.
* American Historical Review, vol. 113, no. 5, December 2008.
Revisits the work of Joan Scott from a variety of angles; particularly interesting is the essay by Joanne Meyerowitz, ‘A History of “Gender”’, and ‘Unanswered Questions’ by Scott herself.
Lyndal Roper (1994) Oedipus and the Devil. Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion.
In many ways the remarkable work of Lyndal is rooted in some familiar anthropological tropes. However, her take on the fantasies and fears (especially of infertility) of mainly older women at a critical time of German-speaking Europe reveals and approach to history that takes in much that had formally remained undiscussed by historians.
Chapter 15: Public history
- What is public about history?
- Consumption of public history
- Producing public history
- Public history as contested knowledge
This chapter examined public history and its chief elements: present-mindedness, promiscuous in its choice of what constitutes historical evidence, multi-disciplinary and anti-expert. It reaches out to historical constituencies such as family historians or popular collectors who are quite untouched by university style history, what is called here the ‘academy’. These are not necessarily readers of popular histories that fill the shelves of booksellers but local and community ‘historians’ who are themselves potentially well placed to tell their own stories without acting as passive participants in histories written by professional historians. However, if these are the claims of its advocates, public and popular forms of history have a soft underbelly. At its worst, academic historians perceive public history as untheorised and uncritical. History becomes heritage, nostalgic and conservative, packaged in such a way that celebrates the past by dressing it up to encourage social consensus, an antiquarian ruse to make us believe that consent and conformity is a natural feature of the present. By collecting evidence of past societies, public historians have allowed those scholars working in the academy to rewrite histories in ways that would have remained quite impossible without their intervention. In so doing, the basis of historical knowledge is challenged. In order to explore these issues, the first section used the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 as a way of discussing the range and scope of sources used by the public historian, the definition of public history, how it differs from the publishing phenomenon of popular history and is perceived differently across the world. Section 2 explored differing views about heritage and the ‘heritage industry’ and the ways that the past is conceptualised, and ways too that public history is ‘consumed’ by the general public. While public history seems to be a different enterprise from university history, it nevertheless produces evidence that professional historians and students can utilize. This is the subject of the third section while the last section explored the tensions created between public history and the academy in what precisely constitutes historical knowledge.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Public history is defined by its approach to evidence, its appeal to a popular audience, its interest in the way the past is represented in the present and its scepticism towards history as a profession. These elements were explored by looking closely at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, which was a street riot and proved to be an earthquake for modern multiculturalism, perhaps, but the aftershocks that followed it are the concerns of public history. It should be emphasised, as it is in the first section, that public history has taken on different guises in different countries: notably, in the cases of Australia, the United States and Britain.
- Heritage is the prominent way that the past is consumed by a mass public. The debate about whether heritage and the ‘heritage industry’ (say through its presentation in the work and activities of the National Trust) was seen by historians such as Patrick Wright or Raphael Samuel as either conservative or progressive depended on its context. Because of these divisions in understanding the role of heritage as a suppressor of present day dissent or a device that passively consumes the past – it remains an approach to research that has much promise.
- Although public history is primarily concerned with the consumption of past narratives through a language of heritage public historians have also been prominent in the production of historical knowledge, say through collecting objects from everyday life. How so doing, definitions of history and who can claim the title of historian is brought into relief while the archive is redefined to be more promiscuous than in other genres of history.
- Public history approaches may challenge the very basis of what is conventionally regarded as the limits of historical knowledge. This section sought to demonstrate how conventional notions of, say, archaeology, biography or classical literature is overshadowed by, say, metal detecting, in-flight magazines or pulp fiction.
Further reading* essential
Hilda Kean et al. (eds.) (2000), Seeing History: Public History Now in Britain.
A collection of essays that outline the plethora of ways in which public history approaches to the past have influenced historical approaches. Essays include Bruce Wheeler, in ‘Language and Landscape: The Construction of Place in an East London Borough’; Paul Long, ‘But It’s Not All Nostalgia: Public History and Local Identity in Birmingham’; and Peter Claus, ‘Managing Boundaries: History and Community at the Bishopsgate Institute’.
John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (1994) The Cultures of Collecting.
Covers to some extent the trends of public history which are apparent in the world of professional museum studies but also in popular forms of collecting.
* Raphael Samuel (1995) Theatres of Memory: The Past and Present in Contemporary Culture.
Sometimes repetitive and overloaded with examples, this is nevertheless a remarkable manifesto for a democratic approach to history, taking into the ranks of ‘historian’ all manner of amateur practitioners of public history.
Ludmilla Jordanova (2006) History in Practice.
Chapter 6, ‘Public History’, covers American and Australian models of public history and arrives at different conclusions.
Chapter 16: Visual history
- Visual histories in film and television
- Ways of seeing: paintings
- Ways of seeing: prints and photographs
- Playing with history: the rise of the video game
As a discipline which emerged in the nineteenth century under the guidance of von Ranke and others, history has tended to rely almost exclusively on documentary evidence for its sources. For most historians, written documents remain the most reliable to hand and thus provide the best access to the period under study. Belatedly, however, other sources broadly considered as visual are now treated with seriousness, and so we investigated how films, television programmes, paintings and photographs are increasingly employed as legitimate means of engaging with history. In certain respects this is surprising given that they are generally considered as works of the imagination, and therefore not ‘reliable’ sources. And it is true that our techniques for reading them are little developed in comparison with those we bring to bear on documentary evidence, and yet when used skilfully images can enhance the historical imagination and provide at least part of the basis for good history.
In section 1 we discussed the considerable interest which films and television exert on the popular historical imagination. Using specific examples, we investigate how they convey a sense of history, and whether or not they can be considered as historical documents. Denying that because they are works of imagination they ought necessarily be dismissed as evidence, our contention is that in particular ways they can offer valuable interpretations of historical events.
In a similar way, sections 2 and 3 viewed the roles played by paintings, prints and photographs. Before the advent of moving images, paintings and prints provided some of the most eloquent representations of contemporary and past societies, and as such have to be taken seriously as historical evidence. In this respect they are no less reliable or ‘true’ than documentary evidence. But as with such evidence, we need to understand the conventions and languages used to construct them, and these skills have yet to be fully developed by historians. The final section brought us up to date with the importance of visual sources by surveying how video games have created fantastic virtual environments and alternative histories which have informed new audiences about the past by lighting up the historical imagination.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- For the majority of people a sense of history is not acquired through books written by trained historians but at school and through various visual media. We make no apology for devoting most attention in this textbook to such scholarly books for these are still the staple fare of history students, but it would be remiss of us not to consider at some point the more popular forms of historical production and consumption. Thus in this chapter we look in some detail at broadcast history and how it is represented in other visual media.
- Anyone doubtful of the continued popularity of history need only consider just how pervasive history programmes are on television, either in the form of documentaries or fictionalized reconstructions. Compared with ‘serious’ books such programmes are lightweight; indeed, they are often dismissed by historians as trivial and inaccurate on those grounds. We beg to differ. To our minds, many forms of producing history are based on the same depth of historical research, and adapt to the same broad narrative structures as do history books. Even films and fictionalized historical novels (Chapter 21) display a profound knowledge of the context. It goes further. Most history books, like broadcast history programmes and novels, attempt to tell a good story; indeed, that is one of the great and seductive attractions of learning about the past. But films and broadcast programmes, it could be argued, are able at the same time to convey affect through sound, vision and word in an even more emotionally engaging way.
- We have glanced at paintings, prints and photographs as sources of historical knowledge. We may live increasingly in a visual culture, but it is not so obvious that such images need to be taken seriously; indeed, our capacity to analyze them does not compare well with our skills at reading printed textual sources, but again, when used appropriately, they are vital sources of evidence. No image is a neutral record of the moment, all images are the product in part of generic convention, and thus they give us real insight into the mentalities and ideologies of the time. Think, for example, how landscape paintings convey discrete range of feelings, or how English prints of the 1790s reveal fissures in politics of the age.
- Finally, it is apparent that among younger generations these visual media are increasingly being superseded by digital technologies. If most historians are somewhat nervous at the suggestion that television and film are legitimate sources of historical knowledge, then you might imagine their sense of disbelief that so too are, say, video games. Well, even if such games seem remote from the strictures of historical inquiry, for legions of the young they are sources of historical knowledge. The questions are therefore, what historical knowledge is being conveyed, and what devices are used by the games to produce it? The answers are perhaps unexpected.
Further reading* essential
* John Berger (1973) Ways of Seeing.
Was a sensation when first broadcast. It established visual culture as a vital part of the western aesthetic in a way that separated it from the Renaissance and Enlightenment inspired idea of the canon that emerged with notions of the modern. Above it revealed art and photography or even advertisements as instruments of ideology.
Peter Burke (2001) Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence.
A book that does exactly what it promises dealing with the problems and opportunities that visual culture as evidence presents to the historian. In this respect, it is valuable.
Francis Haskell (1993) History and its Images: Art and the Interpretation of the Past.
An authoritative if fairly conventional approach to art and its interpretations by historians.
* Robert Rosenstone (2006) History on Film/Film on History.
Working out of the California Institute of Technology, the author has proved to be a major player in discussions about the use of history on film. This book (there is another edition published in 2012) is an excellent undergraduate introduction and proves beyond any doubt the value of film in our understanding of the past.
Chapter 17: Global histories
- The challenge of global history
- Origins of the global imagination
- Enter ‘new world history’
This chapter focuses on the genre of world or global history. Section 1 discusses contemporary interest in globalisation, and investigates whether processes which operate at a global level are a modern phenomenon or have their lineages in the distant past. It shows that many of the features which are now considered to be part of globalisation can be traced back to earlier periods, although recent years have experienced an acceleration of globalisation. It is possible, for example, to devise a periodisation of global history based on such features. Section 2 develops this theme by looking at the extent to which writers of the premodern period shared a concern to think beyond their immediate environments, whether local or national. Here we examine the accounts of some of the great travellers who were responsible more than any others for bringing an awareness of other regions of the world to popular attention, and helped to lift Europe from what might be thought of, in modern terms, as medieval ignorance. Such accounts were marginalised when history emerged as a discipline in its own right during the nineteenth century and turned its interest to nationalist narratives based on notions of the nation state that are associated with the period after the French Revolution. Finally, the chapter considers the promise of fresh approaches to world history which have appeared in the last 30 years, not only in how these accounts reveal a multiplicity of global interconnections, but also in challenging views of historical change that have placed the West at centre stage.
The three sections of this chapter have said three things:
- There is real promise in the study of global or world history. In many respects we live in an age of globalisation, for rarely has a single topic entered so pervasively into media commentary, or been able to mobilise so many people onto the streets around the world. It is hardly surprising under these circumstances that some historians have turned to the global as a means of better understanding the past and therefore the contemporary world. And yet ever since the past was chronicled there have been writers who have demonstrated a desire to move beyond their geographical and cultural boundaries to think more expansively about other, far removed cultures, and the interrelationships which propelled historical change. We saw that, in premodern periods, many of these were travellers who wrote detailed accounts of their experiences. Many of these were hugely popular and brought an awareness of other countries, civilisations and cultures to an eager public.
- The western nation state in the nineteenth century rose when history emerged as a discipline in its own right. Narratives charting the development of individual nations came to be accepted as part of orthodoxy, a marker of what proper research and writing was all about. And yet there remained historians wedded to global perspectives: Hegel, Herder, and to an extent Marx, were all acutely sensitive to the importance of a global imagination. What distinguished their work, however, was a use of evidence to illustrate the role of abstract categories as the driving forces of change. Freedom, progress and class struggle were erected as grand themes to help chart the unfolding of history over time.
- The cataclysmic events of the twentieth century compelled some writers to return once more to the matter of grand, overarching themes as a means of shedding light on human frailties. In their different ways, Spengler, Toynbee and Mumford addressed themselves to this problem by taking up the mantle of their nineteenth-century predecessors. In the aftermath of the Second World War, a number of path-breaking studies heralded an approach which eschewed grand narratives, instead placing stress on revealing the complex interrelationships that existed among different regions of the world as a more satisfying way of explaining change, whether of civilisations or of events which have had a profound impact on human affairs. In so doing, such accounts have displaced the centrality of the West evident in nationalist narratives, and forced onto the agenda previously marginalised world cultures.
Further reading* essential
Marshall G. S. Hodgson (1993) Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam and World History.
A posthumous collection of essays by one of the pioneers of world history in which he argues lucidly and persuasively for the importance of a global history to an understanding of the West.
* Georg G. Iggers and Q. Edward Wang (2008) A Global History of Modern Historiography.
An ambitious book that examines historical thinking and writing from around the world since the late eighteenth century. Accessible and learned, but even at 400 pages plus, the coverage is spread a little thin.
Patrick Manning (2003) Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past.
This is not only a well-informed survey of the terrain of world historiography, but provides useful nuts-and-bolts guidance on how this complex field can be approached. To be consulted rather than read from cover to cover.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1995) Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History.
A brief but brilliant study of world history, not in the form of a survey or critical reflection, but one that uses a concrete episode – the Haitian slave revolt – to demonstrate how Western historiographical power has operated to distort the record.
* Journal of World History.
Edited by Jerry Bentley at the University of Hawaii, this is the official journal of the World Historical Association. Patchy at times, but essential reading for those who wish to keep abreast of the changing paradigm of world history.
Chapter 18: Environmental history
- The scope of environmental history and historical precedents
- European colonialism and the environment
- Modern environmentalism
At first glance the scope of environmental history is immense. Given that it conventionally includes the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between human behaviour and natural world, and the ways in which the latter has been viewed by peoples over time, there are large areas of the sciences and arts which could legitimately be encompassed by its remit. Section 1 considered these issues before moving on to discuss how the environment has been understood in the past. Given the utter dependency of early societies on the environment, it comes as no surprise that from the beginnings of recorded history peoples have thought about the natural world and the climate. They lacked knowledge derived from modern science, but their understanding of the relationship between humans and their environment was sophisticated. Later, historians of the ancient Greek and Roman world demonstrated an awareness, albeit limited, of the natural world and its impact on societal change, before medieval historians and travellers began to paint much larger pictures of the globe. Later, in the long-running General Global Crisis debate, historians argued whether evidence exists to find a causal connection between the very real extremes in climate that is a feature of the seventeenth century and the no less real anomalies of conflict, rebellion, revolution and war which were also such a distinct feature of the period until the eighteenth century ushered in a relative stability.
As was so often the case, however, the age of European imperial expansion witnessed the most rapid advances. In India, for example, the need of colonial authorities to understand and hence control the environment promoted major research projects (Section 3). What emerged was an increased sensitivity both to the vulnerability of the natural world in the face of human depredation, and the reciprocal impact that such change had on people, as evidenced, for example, in devastating famines that swept through large areas of India.
It is something of a paradox that despite the long recognition of such problems that academics were not attracted to environmental science and history until the post-war years (Section 4). Paralleling the rise of concern about the impact of human behaviour on the environment, university courses were offered which attracted large numbers of students, and there appeared a number of pioneering studies which for the first time foregrounded the environment in the history of the modern world. Arguably, more than any other area of inquiry associated with history, environmental history remains truly interdisciplinary.
The three sections of this chapter said three things.
- In addressing environmental history we face something of a paradox. If for the sake of argument we consider that the field seeks to understand the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between the environment and human activity then how can we explain why it has only recently appeared in university programmes, and why it has failed to intervene in mainstream historical research? The paradox is even more striking when we realize that the environment has attracted the interest of scholars, administrators, rulers and indigenous communities from early times. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, for example, were well aware of the influence of topography and climate on human populations and this is expanded a little in the section. To take another example, medieval India indigenous communities developed a sophisticated – but largely unwritten – sense of how humans best manage different land types. Historians have also been debating the possibility changes in the natural environment such as rapid climate change might even been causally linked to historical events.
- As was the case in so many other fields including anthropology and medicine, the colonial experience was instrumental in placing environmental history on a more secure and scientific basis. Through empirical studies on fields, forests, famines and irrigation systems, in particular, colonial administrators began to understand something of the vulnerability of the environment to the destructive influence of human depradation. And it was largely from such studies that historians began to consider how the global environment shaped the course of societal evolution at a global level.
- If environmental history reached maturity in the postwar years with the publication of ground-breaking studies such as Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism, it was as an adolescent. A growing awareness of human destruction of the planet provided much of the impetus for this resurgence of interest, but this level of concern has not been matched by the same determination to write the environment into historical accounts. Until this happens, there is always the chance that the environment will – like many other historical fashions – gradually fade from the scene. For our understanding of the planet, this will be unfortunate to say the least; for the discipline of history, it will be deeply damaging because it threatens to stifle not only the development of global history, but also to the one area of truly interdisciplinary study.
Further reading* essential
Fernand Braudel (1972)  The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II.
The transformative effect of this work can be scarcely overstated. In a sense Braudel can be read as an introduction to this growing area of historical study.
Alfred Crosby (1972) The Columbian Exchange. Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492.
As a pioneering text of the genre, Crosby makes the arresting argument that the motives for Columbia and his expeditions were centrally environmental rather than political or economic. Glacken (1967), also mentioned in the chapter, should be read for similar reasons.
Richard Grove (1995) Green Imperialism. Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of
This is an achievement in the development of green or environmental history. The history takes its cue from intellectual history but is impressive in both detail and scope.
Charles Mann (2011) 1493. How Europe’s Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and Life on Earth.
Like Braudel, this is a history of both width and depth. The ambition of the work is quite breathtaking and is very much worth reading within the context of the themes of this chapter.
* Geoffrey Parker (2013) Global Crisis. War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century.
The idea at the centre of this comprehensive and audacious thesis is not entirely new, but it is wide-ranging and is a fine example of an historian drawing a series of close correlations between change over time and the environment.
Chapter 19: Archaeology
- The lure of archaeology
- The theoretical turn: Collingwood and Childe
- Historical archaeology
- Jerusalem and its layers
For many there seems no significant difference between archaeology and history. Both are devoted to uncovering the past (although literally in the case of archaeology), both recognize the importance of historical chronology, and in broad terms there are strong parallels in the how the two disciplines have developed. Are archaeologists, therefore, nothing more than historians with dirty hands?
If we dig beneath the surface (to continue the metaphor) then certain significant differences can be detected. As we have seen in Chapter 2, the writing of history has an ancient lineage in Greece and Rome, while archaeology has developed only in recent times (Section 1). True, for millennia people have unearthed the remains of previous civilizations, but this was in the search for precious artefacts. Indeed, this motive impelled much of the work of unearthing the past until the modern era. At this point, underpinned by the intellectual transformations of the nineteenth century, archaeology emerged as a discipline in its own right, and embarked on a quest to understand more about the ancient past through the collection and classification of material artefacts.
In the early decades, and despite the tentative identification of stages of societal development, the emphasis remained on empirically-based description. In the mid twentieth century, archaeology came under the spell of theory as Gordon Childe urged his contemporaries seriously to address the matter of explanation (Section 2). In other words, it was no longer sufficient to collect and organize artefacts, they were there to help us provide explanations of how societies changed. This move unleashed in the post-war years an extraordinarily diverse and fragmented body of work, from which emerged one strand which attempted to bring together archaeology and history. So called historical archaeology has to our minds offered considerable potential in overcoming artificial barriers between the disciplines, as evidenced, for example, in the recent work on early imperial formations (Section 3).
The three sections of this chapter have said three things.
- The similarities between archaeology and history are obvious enough. Both disciplines seek to reveal the past through the recovery and interpretation of what remains from the period in question. Both have lineages which can be traced back to antiquity, and have similar trajectories in their emergence as scholarly disciplines, especially during the nineteenth century when they came under the thrall of professionalization. There are, however, important differences. Conventionally, archaeologists have been concerned with preliterate cultures, and because of this have relied principally on material artefacts as sources of evidence, while historians have been concerned overwhelmingly with literate cultures and therefore have focused on written, documentary sources.
- Types of evidence have tended to influence the respective approaches of the disciplines. Initially, the archaeologist set out to discover finds, which later were classified according to increasingly elaborate schemes which had the immense merit of providing reasonably reliable guides to dating. Only in the twentieth century, and largely under the influence of Collingwood and Childe, did archaeology acquire theoretical predispositions, which led to unseemly splits into warring factions. Historians have not been spared from such developments. Thus while the discipline has remained conservative – tied to Rankean notions of historical practice – it too has been punctured in recent years by attacks from the likes of postmodernism.
- Now we see evidence of a certain convergence as archaeologists move into periods and cultures which have previously been the concern of historians, and historians accept with greater enthusiasm material artefacts as forms of evidence. Maybe this rapprochement means that the only real distinction is the state of their hands. Whatever the case might be, it is evident that both archaeology and history have lost something of their innocence in recent times.
- Whether we are talking of the excavation of burial mounds in eighteenth-century America, or interpretation of the rise of European civilization, it is likely that no work was simply a quest for the truth. But lately, as we have seen in the case of Jerusalem, and example much in evidence in this final section, such work has become highly politicized, probably to the detriment of all concerned.
Further reading* essential
Katharina Galor and Hanswulf Bloedhorn (2013) The Archaeology of Jerusalem.
Is a good introduction to an important place for archaeology and an epicentre for the major monotheistic religious traditions.
* Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn (2012) Archaeology. Theories, Methods and Practice.
This looks at archaeology in the round and in so doing highlights the scientific as well as the historical concerns of the discipline.
Bruce Trigger (2006) A History of Archaeological Thought.
This second edition is a valuable resource for the historian wishing to understand the intellectual context of archaeology from a noted archaeologist.
Peter Ucko (ed) (1995) Theory in Archaeology.
The author was a distinguished and experienced practitioner who conducted studies across the world. As part of an impressive collection, the Ucko contribution sets out differences in European and worldwide approaches to archaeology.
Chapter 20: Anthropology
- Pens and pith helmets: the influence of anthropology on history
- Functionalism and structuralism: understanding the Lord Mayor’s Show
- Myths and history: Jewish conspiracies and the ‘blood libel’
- The ‘dying god’: Captain Cook and ethnohistory
- Microhistories: cheese, worms, night battles and ecstasies
This chapter began by outlining the differences between anthropology and history before going on to explore the considerable areas of common ground between the two disciplines. The use of ritual in historical studies influenced a whole generation of historiography, especially apparent since the 1960s. In the course of the discussion in Section 2 we looked at how theories like functionalism and structuralism, so influential in anthropology, were understood by major historians such as Alan Macfarlane, Keith Thomas and Natalie Zemon Davis. The third section examined the rich and fascinating universe of history and mythology within the framework of anthropology. The case study used here is the so-called ‘blood libel’ which across centuries and different cultures has maintained a myth that Jews require blood for their religious rituals. Anthropological approaches used by historians have gone some way in obtaining more sophisticated historical explanations for why this myth has enjoyed such extraordinary longevity. The common ground between anthropology and history includes the use of historical methods by anthropologists interested in ethnography that in turn has significant impact on how historians approach social and cultural history – a relationship that we find entwined in Section 4. Without sensitivity towards pre-literate societies such as those encountered in the anthropological writings about Captain Cook we would never have understood the full circumstances of his death. Finally, we will look at how microhistories, influenced by approaches associated with social anthropology seek ‘to detect the large in the small’. Here the work of Carlo Ginzburg is recognised as especially significant.
The five sections of this chapter have said five things:
- Anthropology and history, where once separated and remote, began to find commonality in method and approach. Much of this commonality was organised around a shared understanding of culture. The first section traces the progeny of social or cultural anthropology and the use historians began to make in the 1960s and 1970s of anthropological approaches to ritual in particular. A hybrid historical anthropology learnt how to decode symbols.
- An understanding of the signs and symbols that make up any study of so-called primitive societies can be utilised to know how the apparently ancient ritual of the Lord Mayor’s Show in nineteenth-century London, perhaps held in the most modern place on earth, could be understood through its cultural symbols. As historians became more anthropological and anthropologists became more historical, then areas of study such as religion, magic and witchcraft became open to different methodologies.
- The importance of myth to anthropology is an area of shared concern to the historian. By looking in some detail at the myth of the Jewish blood libel, that is, the accusation that Jews require blood for their religious rituals, we ask how myth travels across time and geography. Clearly myth has a role as being important to those that believe the myth but, because of that, it also becomes important to the historian.
- The approaches of anthropologists to preliterate societies can give an invaluable insight to historians of, say, imperialism. The example given here is the death of Captain Cook. Without knowledge of local customs and religious beliefs, his murder would be seen simply as an irrational act of a ‘child-like’ ‘primitive’ people. Instead, we now know that the natives’ understanding of religious destiny makes his demise entirely rational – to them.
- The anthropological fixation on social systems, symbols and an emphasis on the interpretation of culture have led historians to look very closely at the microhistory of phenomena that for all intents and purposes appear quite unconnected. The extraordinary work of Carlo Ginzburg is looked at in some detail and, in particular, his painstaking use of what would be otherwise considered to be unconnected fragments of evidence.
Further reading* essential
Clifford Geertz (1973) The Interpretation of Cultures.
A brilliant collection of essays which captures so much of the productive sharing between anthropology and history. The essay on Balinese cock fights is perhaps the most important and certainly the most memorable to non-specialists.
Carlo Ginzburg (1990) Myths, Emblems, Clues.
Again a collection of essays which serve to support some of the themes developed throughout this chapter and also to provide a sketch of Ginsburg’s intellectual development.
Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spencer (eds) (2002) Encyclopaedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology.
These are complex issues and this volume, while comprehensive, does not go out of its way to simplify the discussion of areas such as ‘functionalism’ and ‘structuralism’.
* Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer (2002) Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present.
A comprehensive account of the mythologies and misunderstandings of Jews and Judaism which have been built up and relayed across centuries and cultures.
Robert Deliege (2004) Lévi-Strauss Today.
A very good retrospective of the enormous contribution made by Lévi-Strauss to the social sciences. It combines biographical insights with clear explanations of his theories to a range of disciplines, although not especially to history.
* Simon Gunn (2006) History and Cultural Theory.
A fine tool for historians wanting to understand the theoretical positions that have impacted on history. For the purposes of social and cultural anthropology and history, Chapter 3 is very useful indeed.
* Marshall Sahlins (1987) Islands of History.
The central text of Section 4 – follow the references in the text.
* Marshall Sahlins (1995) How ‘Natives’ Think: About Captain Cook, For Example.
This serves as a reply to Obeyesekere. Again do follow up references from the text, particularly as Sahlins is a prodigious writer in the academic journals. It also has the advantage of setting out the author’s summary of Islands of History.
Marshall Sahlins (1981) Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities: Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands.
A short pamphlet but one which outlines the theoretical contours of the argument very well.
Marshall Sahlins (2004) Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History and Culture and Vice-Versa.
Should be read as the authoritative account from this particular author on the relation between anthropology and history.
Emmanuelle Le Roy Ladurie (1978) Montaillou.
Entertaining and important, Le Roy Ladurie’s research was based upon the large archive of manuscripts that survive concerning Montaillou and the terminal dates he uses are quite precise – 1294 to 1324. The emphasis of the book concerns the ‘Cathars and Catholics in a French village’ at a time of extreme duress. While by no means the first history of a small community, this was a ground-breaking work in microhistory.
Carlo Ginzburg (1982) The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller.
Carlo Ginzburg (1983) The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.
* Carlo Ginzburg (2004) Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.
All these books are exemplars of the anthropological approach. The last probably has the most developed introduction to the theoretical contours of microhistory.
Chapter 21: Literature
- Literature as history
- Historicism: text and context
- Nostalgia and the graphic novel
- Writing the metropolis
Literary cultures provide sources of historical evidence that greatly enrich understandings of the past. In the opening section we discussed how literary scholars have historicized their examination of the novel in ways that blur the boundaries between historical and fictional narrative, and provide both challenges and opportunities for the historian. New Historicism was discussed in the second section. This approach favours an informed interaction between ‘imaginary’ texts and the ‘real’ evidence which has resulted in an interdisciplinary between literary scholars and historians. The third section takes as its focus the graphic novel and how it too can hold up a mirror to both individuals and society, and as such may be worthy of examination, telling us something about our contemporary preoccupations with the past. The final section used the literary and historical writing of the metropolis in order to illustrate how literature and history can enjoy a fruitful and productive relationship.
The four sections of this chapter have said four things:
- Historians and literary scholars are both driven by narrative. People, places, and events are given coherence through imagination. The historian is more likely to press a case that his or her story is true and verified by fact while those more concerned with literature achieves a deeper truth about the human condition. Both are on to something. True historians do place emphasis on source and method and may well prefer detail over the broad sweep of history as often painted by literary forms. By using examples from Arthur Conan Doyle to Hilary Mandel we can readily see that literature itself tells us something about present concerns, anxieties and fears while promising to reach parts that historians – bound by the limits of the archive – may well miss yet can still be both credible and compelling.
- With the so-called ‘New Historicism’ came a realization among literature specialists that the value of a text could not be judged in some objective, neutral space that separated the expert reader from the text itself. Hence, it was recognized, the literary scholar was as tainted by contemporary culture as the work itself. The solution was to take into account the context of when the work was written and when the same work was read. Therefore, it was concluded, history and culture defined each other. So the relationship between historians and the scholars of literature has been either enhanced or used as a way of arguing that historical method could never be said to arrive at a final truth. At its most positive, acts of ‘literal archaeology’ have produced works in each discipline that have demonstrated a remarkable dexterity and imagination.
- ‘Graphic narration’ is another way in which stories that are past-regarding escape the narrower methodologies of the trained historian. The response to 9/11 came in many forms but not least among them was an eruption of comic or graphic novels. Quite often these themes emerged in the genre as forms of social anxiety or, on another register, as forms of nostalgia for times and places where the future could be anticipated in contour and shape. In either case, the section suggests, the graphic novel has come into its own as a way of understanding personal stories in parallel or simple juxtaposition with narratives of nation or even of a reductionist notion of good versus evil. We ignore this consideration of the past and change very much at our peril.
- Finally we returned to the metropolis has a site in which both historians and those concerned with fiction have often trod on similar paths. Perhaps key here is the unknowability of the modern city. Historians could study say local government or public utilities but how to give voice to the voiceless and how to understand complex urban spaces that contemporaries themselves believed to be essentially beyond comprehension. Enter a Mayhew, a Booth or a Dickens. Surely the great ‘Condition of England’ novels that chartered the progress of the Industrial Revolution had something to say as did the social investigators – each surely not uninfluenced by the so-called slum novelists such as George Gissing of Arthur Morrison. Either way, our view of the past is surely enhanced.
Further reading* essential
Alison Light (2015) Common People and the History of an English Family.
This is public history and it is family history. Using some of the sources routinely employed by the genealogist the results here are neither purely ‘history from below’ nor wholly a memorial to ancestors. The critical interlocutor is an intimate knowledge and use of language which succeeds, brilliantly, to unite text with context.
Simon Schama (1991) Dead Certainties.
Reveals more about the complex relationship between fiction and historical truth by providing answers to questions that cannot be answered by conventional historical method and reflecting on the process of how narratives are created. In doing this, Schama self-consciously used literary devices.
* Dominick La Capra (2013) History, Literature, Critical Theory.
This is an accomplished attempt to consider the layered and complex intercourse between literature and history. It is clear but not mechanical and sees history as a discipline and a process. It should be consulted by those who wish to search further on the conceptual boundaries where literature and history co-exist.
Chapter 22: Geography
- History, space and place
- Geographies of empire
- How to lie with maps: maps, methodology and the metropolis
Geography and its methods have been especially useful to historians in recent years, particularly for those historians working on urban topics and on empire. The first section acknowledges the way place and space have been understood in both urban and imperial studies and charts the development of historical geography as a sub-discipline, closely related to both anthropology, which we have explored, and sociology, which is the subject of the next. This section, therefore, will concentrate on the contribution of historical geography and its importance to the historical method in the study of space or place, using examples that illustrate how geographical approaches to history have become critical to historians. By the end of the section we will have a robust idea of why geography counts in historical analysis more generally and why it is important to history. The second section investigates empire geographies: geographies closely aligned with postcolonial criticisms of imperialism, postcolonial discourses and the problem of how power was wielded in imperial spaces, in both the past and the present. The final section concentrates on urban spaces and the mapping used by Charles Booth, the late nineteenth-century statistician, philanthropist and social investigator. Maps have been a constant if changing focus for historical geography and are useful as a way of illustrating the extent to which geography has moved away from the social sciences and towards the arts or humanities, facilitating the use of maps as historical sources.
The three sections of this chapter have said three things:
- The methods of historical geography are important in understanding place and the changing nature of places. Geography has been particularly important in charting empire and understanding the role of place in urban environments. The main point to grasp from this section, however, is that how we define what historical geography is has been largely dependent on the changing nature of what historical geography does. On occasion, it has embedded itself within the sciences, at other times it has focused on ‘softer’ evidence such as language or culture. It has gone through a postmodern phase where ‘representations’ of phenomena have become more important than the phenomena itself. In either case, it can be safely stated that historical geography is set apart from physical geography and its focus on place and the comparison with place in the past has proved to be both useful and innovative to historians.
- Empire geographies have explored in some depth over recent years the relationship between centre and colonial periphery and the way cartography proved to be an aid in the imperialist project. Indeed the focus on the centre/periphery metaphor in understanding both urban and imperial spaces continues to yield some fascinating historical questions. One such question is the nature of the relationship between so-called urban social investigators in the past, anxious to understand and map the ‘poor man’s country’ and the imperial explorers who wanted to chart the boundaries of the known world. By looking closely at the way mapping has evolved since 1400, it was possible in this section to see how mapping the world could assist (for the West) the process of ruling the world. In this sense, geographers quite often have been at the forefront of what it meant to be modern. Without the tools of historical geography, we would have remained quite ignorant of this process.
- Urban geographies have exposed the constructed nature of map-making as, in the case of Charles Booth in the nineteenth century, the result of subjective moralising not objective ‘scientific’ approaches. By taking Booth as a case study, it became possible to see how mapping social phenomena could appear objective and scientific but in reality owed more to subjectivity and the moralising (if well-meaning) of a late-Victorian gentleman. Indeed it was suggested in this section that Booth was very much influenced by contemporary social reportage; that is, portrayals of the poor and of different ethnic groups (notably Jews and the Irish) by sensationalist journalism, slum literature and paintings that claimed to be socially realistic. Mapping and the historical study of place remain vital as a facet of our overall historical understanding.
Further reading* essential
David N. Livingstone (1992) The Geographical Tradition.
This has proved to be a seminal work in its comprehensive treatment of the changing meaning of geography and its relationship to the discipline of history.
Felix Driver (2001) Geography Militant: Geography, Exploration and Empire.
Driver takes a comprehensive view of the whole panoply of empire geographies, looking closely at the role of explorers and scientists but finishes with an interesting and important chapter on descriptions of empire in the context of late Victorian London.
Jeremy Black (1997) Maps in History: Constructing Images of the Past.
This should be read in conjunction with the author’s Maps in Politics, published in the same year. Both books are especially strong on warning about the opportunities and pitfalls of using maps as sources.
Eric Wolf (1983) Europe and the People Without History.
This is an extraordinarily ambitious world history written not by an historian but by an anthropologist. Not only does it challenge triumphant narratives of the rise of the West, but puts squarely on the agenda the importance of space to an understanding of historical change.
Chapter 23: Archives in a digital world
- What is an archive?
- ‘When we return as human beings again’: archives and the ashes
- ‘Speaking for ourselves’: state and community archives
- Archives and the digital turn
The idea of the archive is an ancient one and the archive itself is often a locus of power. Archives can take the form of a stone inscription, a clay tablet or perhaps even a recorded memory and need not simply comprise parchment and paper. This chapter moved beyond definitions and interpretations of the archive by examining how an archive is built and developed, the sheer variety of sources that can make up an archive, and how the archive can increase or recede in importance depending on the preoccupations and fashions of the day. This explored, the second section examined the preservation of an extensive archive of East European shtetl or small town Jewry through the YIVO, an institute for Jewish research. The mere existence of the YIVO archive allows, in a sense, a way of life to survive, even to live on, making it possible for historians to map the road to evil and back. This case study shows the possible extent of the archive but also the political nature and dimensions of archives more generally. By discussing The National Archives at Kew and the concept of community archives in the final section, we ask once again, not only what an archive is but also whom it should serve. In this way, the chapter finishes by moving away from an examination of the ‘official’ or national archives governed by agreed professional standards to the ‘democratisation of the archive’ and proposals for archives to be generated, not by the state, but by local associations and communities. Finally, we looked at the lasting importance of turn to digitization on archives and the practice of historians.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Archives have traditionally been defined by sets of power relationships; most often in the modern period by the acquisition of the archive by the nation state. The archive is also acquired, maintained and read in ways more subjective than the professionalisation of the process might allow. This has led to a judgement about the archive that naturally questions its overall subjectivity and its ability to be a simple reflection of the society in which it is located. This has led to questions about the nature of the archive as a form of knowledge production. It has also prompted notions that the boundaries of the archive are very fluid with the archive seen as a partial survival of the past as well as a wholly owned subsidiary of the here and now.
- Archives can be varied and multi-layered and mean different things at different times. They can also, as in the case of the YIVO Jewish Research Institute, identify very closely with a particular subject; in this case collecting the last fragments of eastern European Jewry as they found ways of making sense of their lives and identities before many were murdered in the labour and death camps of the Nazi regime. While the archive that was surreptitiously collected proved to be very varied indeed, it nonetheless was an archive that was supplanted by the memories of those that survived. Its main function, however, was to rescue and then consolidate the narrative of a people or nation.
- The Public Record Office (now The National Archives) has gained over the centuries both influence and power over our national memory – this despite years when the archive was not gathered in one place and tended to be in poor shape. Yet, it has gathered to itself a good deal of expertise. Archives dominated by official approaches can by the application of new technologies also empower individuals and communities, opening up different types of archives and changing traditional approaches to the collection and maintenance of the archive. These so-called community archives open up distinct opportunities for the national archive to be more locally focused, and less beholden to the organised and professional systems that are charged with selecting the raw material today for the history that is likely to be written tomorrow.
- Without doubt the digital turn has opened up a universe of possibilities for the historian. Once obscure and distant collections – from the records of the Old Bailey to the squalid details of the slave trade – are but a click away. This does, however, present theoretical challenges and even ethical choices for teacher and learner alike. The ultimate challenge will (as ever) be our selection of archive and the integrity we bring to both history as a discipline and to the dead themselves.
Further reading* essential
* Antoinette Burton (ed.) (2005) Archive Stories, Fictions and the Writing of History.
This collection rejects the idea of the archive as static and objective, ‘innocent of struggles for power in either their creation or their interpretative application’. Researchers expand on this theme by telling their stories of archives consulted in India, Australia and so on. The introduction by Burton is excellent.
Natalie Zemon Davis (1987) Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France.
Confronts the usual practice of historians to either ignore the fictive elements of an historical document or by the application of ‘scientific’ methodology peel away these stories to get at what is truly important – in this case ‘pardon tales’ that in the sixteenth century provided mitigation for crimes such as murder and so forth. Instead, it questions the boundary of fact and fiction in the archive.
Carolyn Hamilton et al. (eds) (2002) Refiguring the Archive.
The result of a sustained project about archives and their uses, this collection contains papers presented at a conference on the subject. Its main concern is to both theorise the archive but also to interrogate the nature of the archive, especially the state archive of South Africa in the period after the colonial and apartheid eras.
* G. H. Martin and Peter Spufford (eds) (1990) The Records of the Nation.
A reminder that The National Archives at Kew is not only the keeper of at least one nation’s memory but also the centre of important scholarship. It tells the fascinating story of the world’s largest continuously existing state archive and its conservation. Contains essays by G. H. Martin, Peter Spufford and Elizabeth M. Hallam.
Chapter 24: Oral history
- ‘Anthropologies of ourselves’: urban, rural, foreign
- Oral historiography
- Interviewing techniques and the limits of memory: Arthur Harding and the East End underworld
- The wider conceptual problems
This chapter discusses the subject of oral history in terms of the opportunities it offers to the historian and in relation to the conceptual and methodological issues that it raises. In the first instance, this involves looking at the use made of oral history, not just in colleges and universities, but also in the wider community where it has found a home. Much of the ideological and political importance of oral history as a method can be understood by examining how it rose to its current popular status. To do this involves describing how it grew out of a background in social history and ‘history from below’ movements of the 1960s and 1970s. However, collecting and interpreting oral evidence has a much older history than this. Sociologists began using interviews and participant observation in urban settings as early as the 1920s and historians adopting such techniques were well aware of this. Finally, oral history is moved by an urgent sense of recovering a world of memory, the reflections of older people, that are about to be lost as they slip over the lip of memory into a forgotten obscurity. At a wider level, this informed the fear that whole cultures and sub-cultures might disappear. This thought alone opens up another lineage for oral history. While anthropologists and ethnographers had long used such techniques in their fieldwork in Africa, Asia and South America, the work of Jan Vansina in Africa most notably has had a somewhat different purpose. Taking both anthropology and history as his starting point, the aim was not to recover the memories of those who had participated in an historical event but to make use of African oral traditions that passed down stories from the past but which were then manifested as homilies or metaphors for current political or power relationships.
The four sections of this chapter said four things:
- Oral history is an invaluable tool for the historian and can be used in a variety of different situations to give us an invaluable view on the past. The subject area for these methodologies may differ – for example, urban change, rural social development or political transformation in South Africa. In all these instances, the need to contextualise findings derived from oral history remains paramount.
- Oral history exists within a wider context of myth, unreliable memory and competing narratives about the past, but this presents methodological problems. The development of oral history in its modern, western guise is traced via its influence from attempts to retrieve a ‘history from below’ as the new social history developed in the 1960s. Oral history was seen as one way that a previous untold history could be pieced together using its methods.
- These methodological problems were played out in the chosen case study of an oral history from the 1980s, Raphael Samuel’s East End Underworld . These were very clear when focusing on the detailed lives and preoccupations of historian and interviewee. In the case of Samuel and Harding, it became clear that each was influenced by the historical context of the East End of London and its popular construction and came to the project with their own priorities and assumptions.
- The practice of oral history has existed in more anthropologically based oral methodologies in Africa and elsewhere that have at their centre a desire to understand the oral histories of pre-literate societies. These societies tend to tell the lineage of their cultures collectively, handing down stories which then serve to make sense of their present and most certainly do not rely on living memory. It also exists in western cultures to provide a basic human need to retrieve memories from oblivion and this need has its origins in Enlightenment folklorist traditions.
Further reading* essential
Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson (eds) (2006) The Oral History Reader.
Celebrates the establishment of oral history as an accepted part of the wider discipline; this impressive anthology takes in contributions from across the world. Of particular interest are the essays by Paul Thompson, Liusa Passarini, Joanna Bornat and Trevor Lummis.
* Raphael Samuel (1981) East End Underworld. Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding.
An extraordinary example of the oral history method. Contentious in its planning and execution it nonetheless stands out as a model of interviewing technique. Unfortunately, this volume is now out of print but well worth consulting if possible. A supplementary volume by Claus and Marriott is forthcoming.
Elizabeth Tonkin (1992) Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History.
A complex argument, focused on the processes in which self-consciousness is constructed through a medley of social influences and which are understood through a multi-disciplinary approach.
Jan Vansina (1985) Oral Tradition as History.
Gives an insight into pioneering approaches in anthropological fieldwork as well as, for the oral historian, ideas on the importance of language, memory, performance and ritual.
Anthony Selden and Joanna Pappworth (1983) By Word of Mouth: Elite Oral History.
A guide to the study of elite oral history. This volume is especially notable because it is concerned with political power in socially high places.