Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2013
Understanding ourselves in time
There cannot be a ‘new history’ in quite the sense that Einstein founded a ‘new physics’. … Nevertheless the shift of interest towards inquiries of the sort which are reported with such brevity and sketchiness in this book, ought perhaps to be called a new branch of history.
The phrase ‘sociological history’ has been occasionally used here … as its title.… This is mainly to register a distinction in subject matter, for confessedly historical writing has not previously concerned itself with births, marriages and deaths as such, nor has it dwelt so exclusively on the shape and development of social structure. But the outlook is novel as well as the material, at least in its emphasis. Perhaps the distinctive feature of the attitude is the frank acceptance of the truth that all historical knowledge, from one point of view, and that an important and legitimate one, is knowledge about ourselves, and the insistence on understanding by contrast.Peter Laslett (1965)
When I read Peter Laslett's The World we have Lost (1965) I literally sat up all night to finish it, and it made me want to sign up for the ‘new social history’ under his supervision. His phrase ‘understanding ourselves in time’ encapsulates for me what this enterprise is all about.Keith Wrightson (2011)