Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History

Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History

Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History

Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History

Synopsis

In Uniting the Kingdom? a group of the most distinguished historians from Britain and Ireland assemble to consider the question of British identity spanning the period from the Middle Ages to the present.Traditional chronological and regional frontiers are broken down as medievalists, early modernists and modernists debate the key issues of the British state: the conflicting historiographies, the nature of political tensions and the themes of expansion and contraction.This outstanding collection of essays forms an illuminating introduction to the most up-to-date thinking about the problems of British histories and identities.

Excerpt

P.K.O’Brien

Institute of Historical Research

The Institute of Historical Research, founded in 1921, has long been acknowledged as the national, and a leading international, centre for promoting the advanced study of history. Of its many programmes, one of the most important is the Anglo-American Conference of Historians, which has met no fewer than sixty-four times since 1921. The present invaluable volume has its origins in the 63rd Conference, convened in the Senate House of London University in the summer of 1994 with the support of a grant from the British Academy.

A Steering Committee of historians, including Dr Sean Connolly, Professor Rees Davies, Professor Harry Dickinson, Dr John Morrill, Professor Keith Robbins and myself, constructed a programme to address critically the theme ‘The Formation of the United Kingdom’—a programme which ranged across the centuries, gave due attention to the converging and separate histories of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and provided the opportunity for broad scholarly debate. It was our view, given the uncertain nature of present-day ‘Britain’ and ‘Britishness’, that such a conference had a pronounced topical relevance. Moreover, there was an impressive range of scholarly expertise that we could hope to recruit to discuss the making of British History. In the event, thirteen distinguished lecturers looked anew, within their particular fields of specialist knowledge, at national identities, religious diversity, cultural assimilation and resistance, the political tensions arising from conquests and constitutional incorporations, and much more besides. Each lecturer was paired with respondents, and many members of the large audience—there were 400 participants in all—contributed vigorously from the floor.

This book contains contributions from fifteen of the lecturers and respondents, and from a further three historians to whom special thanks are due for agreeing to expand the debate in fresh directions. Similarly, Dr Alexander Grant and Dr Keith Stringer are to be congratulated for the labour and care they have put into the construction of a fitting memorial to a major intellectual event, and for conveying these top-class essays to a wider public.

Historians are too wise to claim that there are easy lessons to be learned from their discipline, but they know that history matters, and the scholarship and insights embodied in these essays can undoubtedly play a vital role in informing current debates about the future of the United Kingdom.

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