From World War to Cold War: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the International History of the 1940s

By David Reynolds | Go to book overview

18
Culture, Discourse, and Policy
Reflections on the New International History

These essays seek to illuminate the wartime Anglo-American relationship and its place in the history of the 1940s. They also raise questions about the methodology of international history, some of which I now try to address. This concluding chapter reflects on the evolution of international history from its nineteenth-century roots in 'diplomatic history', looking particularly at how it has adapted to recent developments in the historical discipline as a whole such as the so-called linguistic and cultural 'turns'. I do so with reference to some of the material on the 1940s deployed in earlier chapters of this book.

'International history' is not one of the most celebrated branches of our profession. Looking in some of the recent textbooks on historical method, one will not find it even in the index.1 'Diplomatic history' is the label still generally employed,2 and then mostly in rather dismissive terms, as a relic of old-fashioned political history practised through a close and often uncritical reading of government documents and usually predicated on a 'great man' theory of history. In 1936 G. M. Young didn't discern even a touch of greatness: in the words of his oft-quoted aphorism 'the greater part of what passes for diplomatic history is little more than the record of what one clerk said to another clerk'.3 In The Nature of History, published in 1970, Arthur Marwick claimed that diplomatic

Earlier versions of this chapter were given as a paper to the International History Seminar at the
Institute of Historical Research in London in October 2001 and as the annual Bindoff Lecture
at Queen Mary College, London University, in February 2005. I am grateful to Susan Bayly,
Ludmilla Jordanova, and Alexandra Shepard for comments on a draft. A shorter published version,
without discussion of the linguistic turn, appeared in Cultural and Social History, 3 (2006).

1 e.g. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth about History
(New York, 1994); Jeremy Black and Donald M. MacRaild, Studying History (2nd edn., London,
2000); Ludmilla Jordanova, History in Practice (London, 2000); Arthur Marwick, The New Nature
of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language
(2nd edn., London, 2001).

2 e.g. John Tosh, The Pursuit of History (3rd edn., London, 2000). Juliet Gardiner, ed., What is
History Today…?
(London, 1988), 131–42, included a chapter on diplomatic history but, in a
more recent tour d'horizon of the profession, David Cannadine, ed., What is History Now?
(London, 2002), it was one of the sub-disciplines omitted for reasons of space (p. vii).

3 G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (London, 1936), 103.

-331-

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