Ireland: Contested Ideas of Nationalism and History

By Hugh F. Kearney | Go to book overview

Preface

On Being a Historian in Four Countries

In 1942 I had the good fortune to win a state scholarship worth £250 a year. It also covered university fees. Without the state scholarship I might have gone to Liverpool University; with it I was able to apply for admission to Cambridge University. Cambridge, like Oxford, was a collegiate university and in becoming an undergraduate I also had to choose a college. Quite by chance I became a member of Peterhouse, mainly because my history teacher Frank Grace had been a research student there in the 1920s. Peterhouse was also well known as the college of Herbert Butterfield, a former grammar schoolboy, whose book The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) challenged the assumptions of the orthodox nationalist interpretation of English history. I had come across it at my own grammar school. Peterhouse had earned a reputation as a college in which history had been taken seriously since the days of Adolphus Ward, master of the College from 1900 to 1924. One of the editors of the Cambridge Modern History, Harold Temperley, a leading diplomatic historian, had been a fellow. It was thus not surprising that it should be my choice of college.

History teaching at Cambridge revolved around lectures organized on a university basis and tutorials centered on the college. We attended most lectures out of a sense of duty but there are some which I still recall with pleasure, in particular those by Michael Oakeshott on political thought and by Michael Postan on economic history. Helen Cam's course of lectures on medieval constitutional history was also an impressive performance. She was a great admirer of Stubbs but she also introduced us to the works of Maitland and we were made very much aware that there was a good deal of debate about such issues as the Magna Carta and the role of parliament. We also read Stubbs's Charters as well as parts of his History.

Oakeshott's lectures were intellectually exciting but it was in Postan's lectures that we were made aware of what today we would call history

-1-

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