Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 November 2009
This chapter offers an interpretation of Irish history in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by a historian who was trained in the German historiographical tradition. This is a tradition which is in many respects different from that of Ireland, Britain and North America: ‘German historians have an industry they call ‘Periodisierung’ (periodisation) and they take it very seriously’ – thus the English historian C. H. Williams in 1967. ‘Periodisation’, the definition of historical periods and the discussion of their usefulness in historiographical debate, has a long tradition in German historiography. In order to justify their interest in periodisation German historians argue that, as Wolfgang Reinhard has put it, ‘even the most pragmatic and rather arbitrary selection of two years to identify a portion of history could result in the smuggling of some theoretical concept into apparently factual statements’. For example, choosing dynastic dates as limits for a book on the history of any European country in the early modern period implies different things: that the rule of a certain dynasty constitutes a unified epoch in this country's history or, more generally, ‘that crown and dynasty are the factors which really matter’. Consequently, German historians argue, periodisations and their underlying concepts and interpretations have to be constantly discussed and, if necessary, revised. This is the other ‘industry’ of German historiography: the development of theoretical concepts in order to explain and categorise historical phenomena and processes, which is often closely connected with discussions on periodisation.