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6 - Writing the past

from Part 1 - Modes of writing and their contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2010

Joanne Shattock
Affiliation:
University of Leicester
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Summary

The past as we know it was largely created by the Victorians. Historical terms and concepts such as the Renaissance, the Augustan, Modernity, the Zeitgeist - indeed, the very coinage 'Victorian', and even the idea of periodicity itself, were nineteenth-century inventions. Moreover, we have inherited from the nineteenth century a modern historical consciousness, and historiographical methods, for it was during this period that the modern discipline was defined and professionalized, that the counterclaims of empiricists and idealists were first articulated. This was when the German empiricist Leopold von Ranke introduced the methods of 'objective' history, the French republican Jules Michelet those of 'total' history, and the Swiss historian of art and culture Jakob Burckhardt those of Kulturgeschichte, and when Hegel and Marx shifted the focus of historical study away from the rise and fall of rulers and nations to the analysis of social change, together revolutionizing the historical sciences across Europe; while, in Britain, Carlyle and Macaulay presided over an efflorescence of narrative history and in 1886 the professional journal the English Historical Review was founded.

Nineteenth-century historiography is sometimes represented as somewhat monolithic, comprising predominantly grand narratives of great men, and celebrating nationalist and imperialist ideologies within either the progressivist paradigm of Whig history or the cyclic model of history favoured by conservatives. However, it is on the contrary precisely because history writing in an age described by Nietzsche in On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1873) as suffering from a consumptive ‘historical disease’ was so rich and various, and took so many literary forms beyond that of the formal academic treatise, that modern cultural historians, critics and theorists so often turn to it, as a source or model, or as offering exemplification and elaboration of modern methods.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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  • Writing the past
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.007
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  • Writing the past
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.007
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Writing the past
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.007
Available formats
×