Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew

Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew

Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew

Politics and Culture in Victorian Britain: Essays in Memory of Colin Matthew


In the last twenty years one of the classical arenas for British historical writing - the politics of Victorian Britain - has ceased to be an obvious or self-evidently important subject. Facing up to this challenge, the historians who have contributed to this volume explore central aspects of that history. They continue to uphold the centrality of politics to Victorian Britain, but suggest that politics must be viewed more broadly, as a concern pervading almost all spheres of life, justas Victorians themselves would have done. In this way politics penetrates into Victorian culture. 'Politics' can lead us into the ideas governing political action itself; political ideas; international relations; the eduction of men and women; the writing of history and of literature; engagement with past political theorists; and the ideas behind professionalization. Such are some of the themes taken up here. The specific occasion for these essays was as a tribute to the memory of the late Colin Matthew, one of the most eminent recent historians of Victorian Britain, who was himself determined to uphold the contemporary relevance of Victorian political tradition, and to explore the interface between 'politics' and 'culture'. Reflection on his intellectual achievement is a second distinctive component of this book.


Peter Ghosh and Lawrence Goldman

The intellectual engagement and respect aroused by Colin Matthew were so great and so widespread across several continents, that there could easily be a series of volumes written in his memory, and we claim no monopoly in that respect. In origin at least, the present volume is no more than a local tribute, though it does of course spring from one of the Victorian institutions to which Colin was so devotedly loyal throughout his adult life: that house of many mansions known as the Oxford History Faculty. Yet if Oxford historians are notorious believers in intellectual pluralism, the local focus of this volume has in fact produced a significant underlying unity of approach. This was in no way an obeisance to editorial command, but was rather the unforced result of asking Colin’s friends and colleagues to write on themes suggested by his memory and concerns. We hope, then, that whilst the essays which follow are of course independent works in their own right, they may also be read as a collective statement, a response to a fundamental conundrum which, like Oxford itself, accompanied Colin throughout life.

Colin’s central concern, like ours, was how to set about the writing of modern British history taken as a whole—he would of course have dismissed with contempt the idea that the goal of academic training and expertise was mere specialism for its own sake. He further assumed that any properly synthetic account of this history must take politics as its organizing focus. Yet within his academic lifetime the study of British politics experienced challenges to its legitimacy and assumptions of the most radical kind. To understand the scale of this challenge we may go back—and it is some way—to Oxford in the 1970s, when Colin Matthew was making his name by his seminal and provocative work on Mr Gladstone. This was the last time either in academic life or in the wider public culture of the United Kingdom when British political history could be taken to be a subject of self-evident importance and centrality. At that date the principal university

For a consideration of Colin Matthew’s historiographical achievement the reader must consult the chapters by Ross McKibbin and Boyd Hilton in this volume.

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