Studying History by Jeremy Black, Donald M. MacRaild

By Jeremy Black, Donald M. MacRaild

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Enlightened history was not without its own prejudices, and the principal difference between hack and ‘enlightened’ history lay in the latter’s tendency towards sceptical and critical judgements in the use of sources. 12 Connecting the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries History as a providential account and the embodiment of the spirit of the nation was clearly shown by the career of Edward Nares (1763–1841), Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, 1813–41, who, in common with many writers of the period, combined a nationalistic perspective, born of Protestant zeal and hostility towards foreign developments, with an interest in history.

Such historians’ works entailed a less overtly nationalistic approach to the past and one that was more scholarly, more critical towards sources and methods. Acton was also suspicious of interpretation. Political history remained the dominant type, but was less exclusively constitutional. Instead, there was a greater interest in administrative history, a subject especially appropriate for the new professional historians with their strong archival bent. More generally, historians displayed a greater concern with the political reality that underlay past constitutional settlements.

Leaving aside the key issue discussed in the last chapter, the role of the present in the understanding of the past, there is the long-term human tendency to see human time, like human space, as but part of a world determined by the parameters of sacred time and space. This belief and practice shaped experience for most of human history, and still does for many. Indeed, the possibility of there being a shared sense of history is invalidated by the degree of religious conviction on the part of many.

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