Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship

Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship

Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship

Man on His Past: The Study of the History of Historical Scholarship

Excerpt

The Wiles Trust, while calling for work that shall be based upon serious historical enquiry, asks that the results of such enquiry shall be extended into regions of wider survey and more general reflection. It happens, however, that these are regions into which I have already made more excursions than I ever intended to make -- partly in lectures delivered under other Foundations, and partly in courses which were provoked by specific needs in my own University. I had only one thing left which seemed capable of being turned to the purposes of the new Foundation, while allowing a change in the angle of approach or an opportunity for a fresh kind of commentary: and that was the interest which I had long had in the history of historiography, and the idea which for some time I had been entertaining of an attempt to write about the utility of this subject, to say something of its scope and method, and to discuss its place in historical scholarship.

It may serve a useful purpose if I make it clear in the first place that in the present lectures I am not pretending or proposing to 'set up' as an historian of historiography. I should be disqualified, I think, for the task which I am particularly trying to perform if I were not interested (and, indeed, mainly interested) in other aspects of historical scholarship. The point must be stressed that it is the general historian who, almost by definition, has the prerogative -- because he is under the inescapable necessity -- of relating the parts of historical study to the whole; just as it is he who, having regard to the larger lines of the story, inevitably decides in the long run what is the significant episode, the strategic factor, the pivotal event. We may say that we will lock ourselves in some local topic, or burrow in a special field, or isolate a single aspect of history; but the mere act of 'digging ourselves in' is not the thing which qualifies us to establish even our own subject in its external relations and its wider significance. Because the role of the . . .

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