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1 - Historicism and the Human Sciences in Victorian Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Mark Bevir
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley
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Summary

This chapter examines the place of historicism in the human sciences of Victorian Britain. Historicism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of history in understanding, explaining, or evaluating phenomena. Victorian historicists generally relied on a more or less explicit teleology. Indeed, the Victorian era was the heyday of “developmental historicism”, for the Victorians typically made sense of human life, first, by locating actions, events, practices, and institutions in their historical contexts, and second, by treating history as a progressive unfolding of principles such as character, sociability, reason, and liberty. This developmental historicism arose alongside romanticism and a broader organicism. Organicism infused, to varying degrees, the three strands of Victorian historicism that drew on Whig historiography, German romanticism, and positivism. The chapter finishes by suggesting that developmental historicism declined with the rise of modernist ideas in the late nineteenth century and with the First World War undermining the Victorian faith in reason and progress.
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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