The Art and Practice of Diplomacy

By Charles Webster | Go to book overview

8
Fifty years of change in Historical Teaching and Research1

HAVE a considerable distrust of lectures, books and articles which tell you how history should be written or taught. In both these fields action is far more stimulating than precept. We learn more about how historians write from their books than by anything which they tell us about themselves, and university teachers, at any rate, make their main contribution to the teaching of history by their effect on their pupils.

There are, of course, techniques of research and teaching that can be described and in this way handed on to others. The great changes of the last fifty years have been in part brought about by the sharing of such knowledge amongst us all. But it is difficult to know very much about what I may call the strategy and tactics of historians, the causes which determined their subjects of study and the manner in which they attained, however imperfectly, the ends which they had set before themselves. When I was a young man I was able to meet most of the historians whose works I regarded as a model for my own studies, and I tried to entice them to tell me the secrets of their craft. On occasions I got from such men as Fournier, Pribram or Schiemann a vivid phrase or an anecdote, which illuminated one's own experience like a lightning flash. But much more could be found out about their technique by reading their books and the materials from which their books had been made.

The works of many historians of that period, though they still command our attention, have been outmoded by the great changes in the world during the last fifty years. No other halfcentury has produced so great an increase in applied science or such profound changes in political and social structure over so wide an area. There have been corresponding changes in the development of historical research and in some parts of historical

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1
Address to the Jubilee Meeting of The Historical Association, 1956.

-133-

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