University of Cambridge > > World History Workshop > Between Empire and Europe: Transnational Alternatives in the British Historiography of the Twentieth Century

Between Empire and Europe: Transnational Alternatives in the British Historiography of the Twentieth Century

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  • UserAnne Friedrichs, Trinity Hall, Cambridge
  • ClockFriday 01 December 2006, 19:00-21:00
  • HouseMCR, Newnham College.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Su Lin Lewis.

This paper presents some preliminary thoughts on the relationship between national, imperial and European historiography in Britain in the course of the twentieth century. The central aim is to analyse how British historians dealt with the idea of a common European past, and related the latter to both the nation and the empire-commonwealth. Britain represents a good example of how the professional writing of history developed in orientation and distinction to Western European models, i.e. in particular German and French historiography. Apart from a historical narrative, which focused on the governance of the isle by English-Scottish dynasties, and later by British premier ministers, there emerged also an intellectual tradition which attempted to locate its own country historically within the course of European history. Within this narrative, the history of the British Isles was mediated with tendencies that seemed to characterise the European development in particular periods, such as the renaissance, the religious wars following the reformation, or the Revolutions at the end of the eigteenth century. Secondly, Britain provides an example, where a particularly strong alternative – apart from Europe – was available to locate one’s own country world-historically, namely through the idea of an empire-commonwealth. Therefore, historians of Europe relied not only on mediating European tendencies with English national history, but also on integrating imperial connections, especially of their own country, in their narrative. At the same time, however, this impact was not one-sided, as also national and imperial interpretations of the past had to deal with the issue of a common European past. Finally, the respective bargaining of this tension between different spatial concepts was never a question concerning only the past, but, as this paper will argue, was based on conflicts about different political concepts referring to the present and future.

This talk is part of the World History Workshop series.

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