Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Does the Work of British Historian John Adamson” Break New Ground”

The primary purpose of this article is to answer Nick Poyntz claim that john Adamson's work "breaks new ground". It will do so within the context of Adamson's revisionist historiography.

For the uninitiated Adamson's primary work has been the book the Noble Revolt.  Its basic premise is that a small Junto made up of nobles led a revolt which caused the overthrow of Charles 1st.

Adamson's book is well written and researched as you would expect from a Cambridge University-based historian while the book contains new material that is not enough to say that the book breaks new ground.

In order to break new ground or create new historiography, he would have to at least absorb the two most crucial historiography that of Whig and Marxist in order to create a new synthesis. Not doing this means he has not created new historiography but continues with post revisionist historiography. 

As Mary Fulbrook perceptively writes"The empirical inductivism of revisionists, and their somewhat strident anti- orthodoxy, have failed to provide adequate positive theses to fill the vacuum left by their negative critiques. The over-emphasis on the politics of patronage, apart from being inadequately established historically, suffers from theoretical and metatheoretical shortcomings.40 Theoretically, it can really only tell us something about the medium of politics; it is an empirically open question whether or not there is any ideological content to the formation and struggles of different political factions. Metatheoretically, such exaggerated stress on patron-client relationships is at least as philosophically degrading as any other form of downplaying the autonomy of human action - such as seeing men merely as agents of historical forces - and should, therefore, be rejected by revisionists on their arguments.”

In my opinion, for a piece of work to break new ground has to be more than a well-reasoned argument or a rather large amount of text or have high colour pictures. It must be able to define itself. Revisionism and post revisionism is nothing more than a mishmash of theories that lead the study of the English revolution into a dead end.

Noble Revolt

Whether or not as John Morrill said that the revisionism that developed in the early part of the 1970s was a movement, it had one defining characteristic; it was hostile to Marxism.

This hostility to Marxism was not so much from a historical standpoint but more to do with politics. It is no accident that the growth of a revisionist movement coincided with the rise of a right-wing political movement spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. This movement gained ground with the final collapse of the USSR, which led to numerous theories that the fall of Communism meant that the socialist project had failed. The most pessimistic expression of these principles came with the End of History by Francis Fukuyama. The English Civil War was not the only subject that had a noticeable revisionist trend during this time. From the 1970s Studies of the into the Russian Revolution and French revolution provoked a similar revisionist backlash.

Historians and their historiography do indeed go out of fashion. However, historiographies that were fashionable two hundred years ago still can contribute to our understanding of the war, despite the protestations of Christopher Thompson.

Adamson refers to the English gentry but does not go into any extensive detail as to the class composition of the gentry. What was its economic position towards the king? Adamson is a skilled historian, but a more detailed description of the class struggle involving his Cabal would have made the Noble Revolt far more precise and concrete.
Adamson's work has previously come under ferocious attack from the historian Mark Kishlansky.

I am not saying that Adamson is a left-wing historian by any stretch of the imagination, but it has been modus operandi of right-wing historians to attack other historians in order to push them and their study of history to the right. You only have to look at the"Storm Over The Gentry" Debate to see this.

Kishlansky is first essay Saye What challenged Adamson’s historiography. In reality, this essay was nothing more than a catalogue of Adamson’s errors. Kishlansky’s critique of Adamson does seem to border on academic bullying. In all probability, Adamson made some errors but who has not.

What lies behind Kishlansky's attack is his opposition to Adamson, concluding the facts. In this quote from Conrad Russell, he appears to back Kishlansky's attack on Adamson saying“What makes a historian master of his craft is the discipline of checking findings, to see whether he has said more than his source warrants. A historian with a turn of phrase, when released from this discipline, risks acquiring dangerously Icarian freedom to make statements which are unscholarly because unverifiable".

Kishlansky accuses Adamson of “tendentious interpretation”. Well, you could blame every single historian that has written on the English Civil War of this. Historians have the right to interpret the facts or sources the way they feel fit without fear.

This dispute with Kishlansky clearly bothered Adamson so much so that his book does contain a large number of footnotes 191 to be precise maybe this was a defensive reaction to Kishlansky's critique. Kishlansky alleged that Adamson was “deliberately abusing and misreading sources

As  Nick points out "the unfortunate thing about the debate was that it tended to damn the rest of Adamson's much wider thesis; unfairly, in my view”.

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