Tuesday, 29 March 2011
Historians and the passing of time
From Christopher Thompson
I ought to begin by saying that I have become increasingly fond of Keith Livesey's blog, A Trumpet of Sedition. He and I do not agree on the origins and causes, the course and significance and the consequences of the struggles in the British Isles (or the Civil Wars or Revolution) of the 1640s and 1650s. I believe that the existence of differing views is a good thing because it stimulates debate and new research. He is attached to the views of figures like Christopher Hill and Brian Manning, both Marxists and both figures from my youth. Their approaches were superseded with the rise of the mis-named 'revisionism' of the mid-1970s.
Christopher Hill ceased to shape the course of historiographical debates at that time: it is doubtful whether Brian Manning, whose views had been formed in the early-1950s and which changed remarkably little, ever had.
This process - of once fashionable views going out of fashion - happens to everyone. It happened about twenty years ago to Conrad Russell. He no longer shapes historiographical debates about these events. So, I hope Keith Livesey will forgive me when I say that there is no group of revisionists controlling academic or any other forms of discussion about the 1640s and 1650s in these islands. The debate has moved on: Christopher Hill like Conrad Russell is 'old hat'. Historians now wear different headgear and will change it again in the future.
I would like to return the compliment made by Christopher Thompson on my blog and take up briefly a few of his points. I enjoy his blog. It is the first blog I read and contains extremely valuable information and insight into Early Modern England. As he has mentioned above we do not see eye to eye on the origins and causes of the English Revolution but that is life. If everybody agreed on everything History would be a very boring subject.
In fact I am of the opinion that through understanding contending views of the civil war we get a closer approximation as to its complexities. Christopher is of course right when he says that different generations throw up different types of historians and for that matter different types or schools of history. Perhaps I am wrong to say that the revisionist historians control current historiography. Control is too strong a word but they certainly do dominate. But I will allow a concession to Christopher and admit that I need to carry out a far more accurate analysis of their historiography and politics. If the new group of historians have moved beyond the term revisionists then what are they proposing and can a common theme be detected amongst them. The next few months will show.