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HI4341 History Writing in Britain and Ireland, 1820-1920


Module Organiser:Professor Ciaran Brady
Duration: All Year
Contact hours: 2 hours per fortnight
Weighting: 10 ECTS
Assessment: 100% Coursework

The Nineteenth Century marked the high tide of historical writing in Britain’s public culture. By the 1850s the historian as moral philosopher, as political scientist, as cultural critic and as prophet of the future was everywhere celebrated, and large works of history rivalled popular novels on publishers’ bestselling lists. At the same time the study of history, once despised in the universities as mere dilletantism, was rapidly establishing itself as a respectable academic discipline, and by the end of the century the methods of research, standards of accuracy, forms of publishing and organising institutions of the modern historical profession had been firmly established. By then, however, a serious divergence had arisen over the nature and purpose of historical research between the free-lance men of letters writing in the market place for a broad popular audience and the university historians burrowing in the archives and writing generally for their peers. And, as both groups began to regard each other with increasing incomprehension and contempt, the cultural prestige of history and its popularity as a form of knowledge went into decline.

This module seeks to trace the course of History’s history in Britain through a variety of avenues. The careers and works of the great representatives of both schools - Macaulay, Carlyle Lecky and Froude on the one side; Stubbs, Acton , Maitland and Gardiner on the other - will be examined. The structures and contexts of research, teaching and publication will be explored. And a critical analysis of the great themes of the leading historical works -the Norman Conquest, the Reformation, Cromwell, Empire, and the running sore of Ireland - will reveal the degree to which contemporary ideological preoccupations influenced supposedly detached historical interpretations.

Last updated 16 April 2018 History (Email).