AHA Presidential Addresses
The Challenge of Modern Historiography
A paper read at the 96th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Los Angeles, December 28-30, 1981. Published in The American Historical Review, Vol. 87, No. 1.(Feb., 1982), pp. 1-24
Books by Bernard Bailyn
Gordon Wright, speaking from this rostrum a few years ago, warned that those who have the honor of perpetuating the Association's ritual of presidential addresses "might do well not to take their pronouncements as the voice of God or the crystallized wisdom of the ages," and he wondered if it were not significant that the president is allowed only one parting shot to speak ex cathedra, "not at the outset of his term of office but at the very end, only forty-eight hours before he 'passes into history,' as the saying goes. By that time it is much too late for him to make promises, to influence the Association's future course, or even to be field to answer for his stewardship or for such sophistries as his swan song may contain." Having thus taken the curse off any ex cathedra pronouncements that might follow, Professor Wright proceeded to pronounce on one of the most elevated, difficult, and controversial issues that faces historians who think about what they do--namely, the degree to which history is a moral science.2 I admire his courage, but I take my lead from his warning. What follows is nothing more than a general consideration of certain problems of modern historiography encountered by a working historian a historian, as it happens, just emerging from a considerable period of research and planning for a large-scale project. This project is an effort to describe as a single story the recruitment, settlement patterns, and developing character of the American population in the preindustrial era. It covers a long period of time--the two hundred years from the early seventeenth century to the advent of industrialism. Further, it involves population movements over a vast geographical area--an area stretching from the bleak island of Foula off the west coast of the Shetlands at the latitude of Greenland to the Lunda Kingdom deep in equatorial Africa, from the Baltic port of Flensburg and from Görlitz on the German-Polish border to Natchez and Pensacola. And, finally, the problems it involves lead naturally beyond history itself to other disciplines as they relate to history: anthropology, demography, and, particularly, cultural geography. Yet, despite the breadth of this project, I am painfully aware that any general statements I make about contemporary historiography and its problems as a whole are severely limited by my knowledge, by my primary emphasis on Anglo-American history of the early modern period, and by the kinds of studies I happen to have made in the past and am engaged in now.
My emphasis on the early modern period of North American and Western European history does, however, have an advantage. In recent years this transitional period between our distant and our immediate past has enjoyed an extraordinary growth in scholarship. This segment of historiography has simply exploded since World War II, and, instead of subsiding after great tumultuous blasts, the explosions continue. Books and articles on the three hundred years after the European discovery of America drop from the presses in heaps, and essays of general interpretation multiply endlessly. The topics of current interest cannot easily be catalogued. Anyone interested in the whole range of innovative scholarship in the early modem history of the Western world is involved in the latest refinements in the study of the discoveries and explorations, in parish records of France and England, in family, community, and demographic studies from everywhere from Uppsala to Florence, in the evolution of royal courts, state offices, and parliamentary bodies, in mobility patterns and migrations, in the everyday lives of workers and witches, in race conflicts, social stratification, the uses of leisure, sex practices, burial customs, magic, mentalités and ideologies of all kinds, and attitudes to everything: to birth, to life, to work, to age, to death, and to life after death. Only a besotted Faust would attempt to keep up with even a large part of this proliferating literature in any detail.
What is happening in this area of contemporary historiography is distinctive, I believe, in its magnitude, variety, and speed of growth; but in lesser degrees the same thing is happening elsewhere. Modern historiography in general seems to be in a stage of enormous elaboration. Historical inquiries are ramifying in a hundred directions at once, and there is no coordination among them. Even if one reduces the mass of new writings in the early modern period to the American field, and still further to the publications of card-carrying historians, the sheer amount of the writing now available is overwhelming. But limitations like that are arbitrary. Fields and problems that were once discrete and rather easily controllable merge, lose definition, reveal depths below depths. Early American history, once a neatly delimited field of study, seems now boundless; it is incomprehensible in isolation from Western European and African history. Further, some of the most interesting studies within it are being carried out by scholars in other disciplines: geographers, who find in historical data a rich field of inquiry; economists who are interested in the developmental aspects of the creation and distribution of wealth; methodologists, who are mainly concerned with perfecting techniques, largely quantitative, for inquiries in a broad range of social sciences; theologians and philosophers whose studies are rooted in the great texts of this period; and anthropologists and sociologists who understand the fundamental importance of time development for their own proper work. In other fields of history, too, nonhistorians, whose studies bring them into contact with the records of the past and whose view of their own subjects gives heavy weight to development through time, contribute steadily to the bulging dimensions of history as it is now written. We learn from them, they learn from us; paths cross and identities merge, and historiography grows ever broader--and, one would have thought, deeper and more meaningful. But depth of understanding is a function, at the least, of coherence, and the one thing above all else that this outpouring of historical writing lacks is coherence.
The great proliferation of historical writing has served not to illuminate the central themes of Western history but to obscure them. The most venerable structure of Anglo-American history known in its narrowest form as the "Whig" interpretation‑political in essence but fleshed out with social and economic history which explained the present in terms of an inferior but improving past, has long since been so severely eroded that the turning points and the overall contours of the story have almost entirely disappeared; and no new general interpretation or approach of equal comprehensiveness has developed in its place. A few isolated struts are left here and there, while ever more learned detailed studies pile up haphazardly all around. For a time it seemed that in the area of social history the concept of "society" had become a general organizing principle.3 It promised to transform the traditional, loosely descriptive Sittengeschichte--"a disorganized mass of half truths," it was once called, "dealing as it does with a sort of chaos of habits and customs, ways of living, dressing, eating, and the performance of the duties of existence"4--into a sharply focused explanation of how traditional Western society of the late medieval period evolved into the modern social order we know. That concept remains, essential to such coherence as social history now has. But studies of aspects of "society" in the past--classes, estates, communities, families--have now so increased that the subject, even within that definition, seems to be beyond comprehensive control. Detailed community studies multiply with such speed in so many places based on such disparate data that synthesis into a coherent whole, even for limited regions, seems almost impossible. The latest writer on the subject states flatly that "the intensive study of early modern European social history by the current generation of historians has brought forth no general agreement--and very little theoretical analysis--of the social structure of pre-industrial Europe."5 One grasps, firmly, a methodologically splendid instance--a solid little piece of the beast, but whether of its nose or its tail one does not know. Historians seeking to understand something larger than the painfully assembled local example sensibly attempt generalizations by bringing together an array of other, local examples; but the empirical "base" is usually thin enough to be quickly undermined by other studies using somewhat different data or simply by reinterpretations of the original data.6
Yet, if the proliferating information, much of it quantitative, generated by inquiries into aspects of past societies produces no coherent whole, it does seem to induce a wonderful euphoria. The mere glimpse of the great possibilities of quantitative analysis, which enables one to analyze the characteristics of whole populations and of social structures in times past, leads to dizzying visions of rewriting the whole story of man's past.7 The vision tends to fade, however, with the discovery that the range of inquiry is ultimately limited by the very quantitative techniques that made it possible in the first place, and that the comfort of the apparent clarity, precision, and definitiveness of numbers stimulates the production of ever greater mountains of information, more and more difficult to scrutinize critically and bring into a coherent whole. A poignant moment in modern historiography was reached recently when an encomiast of the Annales school, contemplating in rapt admiration Fernand Braudel's adaptation of Lévi-Strauss's three-level general communications theory, concluded that in the end, when the whole business was brought up to date and put into historiographical operation, there would be "16,777,216 subsystems"--no big job for a decent computer to handle, the author assures us. But one small problem remains: "who," he asked, "would read the enormous number of printouts?"8
Braudel: everyone knows of Braudel's truly heroic attempt to introduce an olympian principle of coherence into the vast mass of historical documentation. His aim was to write a "total" history of an entire "world". to include everything from pots and pans to politics and from geological foundations to cultural achievements. He sought to do this by grouping the affairs of mankind into events of three distinct time dimensions, dealt with separately in three books bound in one: events that are deeply circumstantial and most slowly moving (climatological and geographical history); the more rapid movements of change in social structure and economic patterns; and the swift, hectic, day-by-day movements, the "nervous oscillations," of men in action. that is, politics. He wrote his famous three-layered book on the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century as if the interpenetration of the spheres would somehow happen automatically. In fact, it happened only to the extent that Braudel violated his own abstract scheme. Braudel's Méditerranée has been justly celebrated for its wealth of information, much of it esoteric, and its revealing, at times brilliant, descriptions of the way people lived; but it should be known too for its ahistorical structure, which drains the life out of history. For the essence and drama of history lie precisely in the active and continuous relationship between the underlying conditions that set the boundaries of human existence and the everyday problems with which people consciously struggle. The goal of history is not to separate out events of these different dimensions at a particular point in time but to show their continuous interaction in an evolving story. The drama of people struggling with the conditions that confine them through the cycles of limited life spans is the heart of all living history, and the development of that drama itself, not a metahistorical scheme of classifying events, must provide the framework for any effective interpretation of history.9
There have been other kinds of efforts to bring aspects of the growing mass of historical data into some degree of meaningful order. At a few centers of historical research, data bearing on particular ranges of problems have been systematically collected and conflated, studies have been undertaken to fill in evident gaps, and reports of various dimensions have been issued summarizing the state of the inquiry as it develops. But this kind of systematically cumulative and cooperative research is in fact rare, and it is in its nature preparatory. All of this work will ultimately prove to be only as important as the historians can make it who will one day use the results of this team research together with all the rest of the available evidence to write, not research reports, but history--that is, narrative accounts of large segments of the general story that help explain how the present world came to be as it is.
The Marxists, of course, have introduced a powerful framework of coherence into historical writing. Whatever their weaknesses, Marxist historians did seek--do seek--above all to relate conditions, circumstances, to the struggles and achievements of mankind and to bring together materials from all sides into a single coherent account of how the present emerged from the past. They see underlying forces shaping men's lives fundamentally, either directly or through "dominant ideologies," and have sought to depict both the basic forces and the structures of social and cultural life within a comprehensive scheme that concentrates on critical transitions. The Marxists' vision remains a powerful force in our awareness of the past, whatever our approach to history happens to be. But long before the present explosion of social data, their scheme proved to be too inflexible to encompass the vast array of available historical information; they could not allow sufficiently for the shaping role of ideas, of individual decisions, and of accident; and their conclusions have too often been shown to be wrong. The more technically strict the Marxist interpretation, the less comprehensive the coverage of the data is likely to be; the more comprehensive the coverage, the less strictly Marxist--the more diffuse--the interpretation will be. We are all Marxists in the sense of assuming that history is profoundly shaped by underlying economic or "material" configurations and by people's responses to them; few of us are Marxists in the doctrinal sense of believing that these forces and these responses alone are sufficient to explain the course of human affairs.
But the absence of effective organizing principles in modern historiography--its shapelessness, its lack of general coherence--is not simply the result of the immense increase in writing. It stems, I think, from deeper roots. Many of the most energetic historians have forsaken the general goals of history for technical problem-solving, and not for trivial reasons. Anyone who has struggled with the mind-absorbing, soul-entrapping difficulties of subjecting scrappy social data of the prestatistical era to computer analysis will know how captivating and strangely satisfying, yet how severely vision-limiting, that kind of technical work can be. Absorption in the fascinating technical problems of history is no new thing. It is as old as modern professional scholarship. It happened first, perhaps, to some of the most gifted nineteenth-century historians of the ancient world for whom epigraphical, prosopographical, and legal studies. ever more sophisticated and demanding. became ends in themselves, addressed with increasing elegance and rigor to a decreasing audience of experts. There was only one Mommsen (until Syme) who could advance general historical understanding in a large-scale history and at the same time dominate the world of technical analysis. It happened later, differently, to the Namierites, who tackled with brilliant success problems in the organization of politics in eighteenth-century Britain that few historians had ever glimpsed before. But for all their technical skill Namier and his small group of followers failed to keep their carefully collected data on the minutiae of political "interest" in balance with the evidence of the beliefs that swayed men's minds and the larger allegiances that overrode the ubiquitous factions. Namier understood, correctly, that his technical studies of the organization of politics would recast British historiography, but he never knew precisely how, or what the dimensions of this new historical world would be, since he wrote learned research reports, monographs jammed with quotations and studded with citations to manuscripts, and essays of vast sweep, but not the general narrative history within which his technical analyses fell. He never saw, therefore, the boundaries of the picture he sought to compose, the limits of the hitherto unsuspected truths he unearthed; nor did his followers, who confidently and incautiously extended his analysis backward in time.10
There is something about the advancing movement of historical scholarship that induces this periodic absorption of creative minds in technical problem-solving--an alternating dipping and soaring motion of the mind as it drops down to scrutinize puzzling, tangled details, then struggles, not always successfully, to rise again to view the landscape whole. Perhaps that is the way historical understanding must grow. But, whether or not that is so, large areas of history, including some of the most intensively cultivated, have become shapeless, and scholarship is heavily concentrated on unconnected technical problems. Narratives that once gave meaning to the details have been undermined and discredited with the advance of technical scholarship, and no new narrative structures have been constructed to replace the old. Few historians even attempt now to incorporate the mass of technical findings and the analytical studies that dominate modern research into historical narratives that explain how the world. or some large segment of it--evolved in the way it did. Yet the historical meaning, the relevance and significance, of the technical writings can only be found within and as part of such comprehensive, developmental accounts.
To write such essential narratives--dominated by a sense of movement through time, incorporating the technical studies, and devoted to showing how the present world was shaped by its emergence from a very different past and hence concentrated on critical transitions from the past toward the present--seems to me to be the great challenge of modern historical scholarship. We will continue to need, and will continue to have, innovative technical studies; they extend the range of our knowledge and emerge naturally from the inner propulsions of professional scholarship. And we will need and will continue to have analytical works that explore key issues, personalities, and events in depth. But the critical need, it seems to me, is to bring order into large areas of history and thus to reintroduce history in a sophisticated form to a wider reading public, through synthetic works, narrative in structure, on major themes, works that explain some significant part of the story of how the present world came to be the way it is.11 There is no prescription for such works, no obvious list of themes of appropriate magnitude. The most successful such narrative I know of is Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution, which retells the story of the great transformation of the Roman state and society between 60 B.C. and A.D. 14 in terms of "the composition of the oligarchy of government." It is a narrative, political in a complex social sense, that had to be drawn from a body of technical studies of family history so "overwhelming" in bulk, so recondite and detailed, that, Syme wrote, it "almost baffles exposition."12 Such narratives may develop in intellectual or economic history as well as in socio-political history; they are most likely to develop, as Lord Acton understood and as Oscar and Mary Handlin demonstrated in considering the history of liberty, in a combination of areas.13
These narrative histories will be difficult to write insofar as they incorporate a range of technical, analytical findings. Their structure and the orders of events they describe will follow no standard form. And the difficulties will be compounded by the growing importance of certain broad tendencies, certain inner movements, that are developing within the mass of current scholarship without respect to field and that seem to be creating new dimensions altogether. These developments were not planned. They reflect no methodological doctrine, historical school, or program of research. They have emerged in many subject areas simultaneously, impelled by the dynamics of scholarship itself--by the stimulating effect on sensitive minds of the great increase in documentation in familiar fields, by the influence of ideas developed in other disciplines on historians seeking new approaches and deeper understanding, and by opportunities for new departures suddenly glimpsed by young historians in areas left behind by the once innovative work of older historians. But, whatever their origins, these trends in current scholarship are important in themselves, worth isolating and worth examining particularly for their bearing on the general narratives concentrated on major transitions that will, one hopes, eventually be written.
And so, mindful of Gordon Wright's warning not to mistake one's own observations for the voice of God or the wisdom of the ages, and with apologies in advance for the severe limitations of my unbalanced emphasis on certain kinds of Anglo-American studies only marginally extended into Continental European history, I would like to sketch these trends as I see them emerging from recent historical scholarship--trends that are likely to shape any comprehensive narratives that reflect the knowledge and analytical skills we now have.
The first becomes clear through a consideration of the importance of quantification. Quantification in history is easily misunderstood. As David Herlihy has explained, it is distinct from computation and the formal analysis made possible by computers. Much confusion has resulted from the failure to observe this distinction.14 Further, as Oscar Handlin and others have shown, if it is not practiced with careful discrimination and by historians otherwise informed of historical reality, it can destroy the foundations of historical understanding by limiting questions to available numerical answers, by endowing with a spurious rigor claims that have no basis in fact, and by diverting attention from the central themes of an evolving inquiry.15 But, beyond all of that, the innovations that are claimed for quantification are exaggerated. Historians have always used numbers, when they could get them; they have always attempted to convey magnitudes in numerical as well as verbal terms. Yet there is something in the current euphoric development of quantification in history that is new and that will, I think, greatly affect the future evolution of historiography generally.
Some terms borrowed from Freud and the sociologists but used here in a somewhat different way may help one see the character of the development.16 It is reasonable, I think, to say that almost all history written before the twentieth century was essentially manifest history. That is, history was the story of events that contemporaries were clearly aware of, that were matters of conscious concern, were consciously struggled over, were, so to speak, headline events in their own time even if their causes and their underlying determinants were buried below the level of contemporaries' understanding. And this could hardly have been otherwise since, quite aside from what historians might have thought was important, the available documentation was derived largely from public records, from the personal archives of great men much involved in the headline events of their own time, and from literary accounts of other kinds variously focused on manifest events. Underlying circumstances, however skillfully and imaginatively described, were secondary concerns introduced as prefatory matter or interleaved here and there to help explain the main events, which formed the structure of the story, or to help create a realistic picture of the era in which the events took place. Sometimes these prefatory or contextual descriptions were remarkably effective: Macaulay's third chapter, for example, or Henry Adams's opening six chapters of his History of the United States, or David Cecil's fourteen-page pointillist depiction of the social world of the eighteenth-century Whig aristocracy with which he began his Melbourne--one of the most effective vignettes of social history ever written. But, however effective these passages may be, they form an accompaniment to, a commentary on, a background for, the essential foreground, which remains the story of manifest events.
What is new, it seems to me, about the current work in quantitative history is not that numbers as such are being introduced, or more precise numbers than we have had before, but that the kind of numbers being introduced is making possible a new range of inquiry into what might be called latent events--that is, events that contemporaries were not fully or clearly aware of, at times were not aware of at all, events that they did not consciously struggle over, however much they might have been forced unwittingly to grapple with their consequences, and events that were not recorded as events in the documentation of the time. No one in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake colonies knew that population growth was slowing in Britain and that labor markets were shifting in ways that contracted the flow of white indentured servants to the colonies; the planters only knew that they found themselves relying more and more on the labor of black slaves. The latent history of population growth in seventeenth-century Britain was uncovered by twentieth-century students of population history using quantitative analysis, who also established the fact that it was only in the mid-1680s, and not before, that blacks formed the majority of the Chesapeake region's labor force.17 Similarly, no one in the Tuscan countryside ravaged by the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century associated that fearful manifestation of God's wrath with an earlier population decline that had been in motion for a century before the plague struck Europe. It was David Herlihy who uncovered this latent event, entered it, so to speak, into the record, and associated it with the manifest devastation of the plague; and he could discover this earlier decline only in statistics which he created out of the manuscript tax records of the countryside of Pistoia and the great Florentine survey, the Catasto, of 1427.18
Other examples easily come to mind, especially in connection with population history: shifts in sex ratios, in age at marriage, in birth rates and death rates, in age distributions, and in mobility patterns. But such key events in population history are only the most obvious of this new range of historical episodes. Events of the same order are now being discovered frequently by historians working on quite different questions: occupation and wealth distributions, church membership, patterns of landholding and types of land usage, living arrangements. It is not simply that quantification is making possible a more precise description of these events. The events I am referring to were known, if at all, only vaguely by contemporaries or by previous historians to have been events; they are being discovered as particular happenings now for the first time. Taken together, they form a new landscape. a landscape like that of the ocean floor, assumed to have existed in some vague way by people struggling at the surface of the waves but never seen before as actual rocks, ravines, and cliffs. And like the newly discovered ocean floor--so rich, complex, and busy a world in itself--the world of latent events can be seen to be part of, directly involved with, the manifest history of the surface world itself And that is my point.
One of the most important developments in current historiography, it seems to me, is the emerging integration of latent and manifest events. I do not mean simply that a deeper picture of the context of public events is appearing, although that is indeed happening, but that events of one order are being brought together with events of another order. The resulting conflation is beginning to produce the outline of a general history different from what we have known before. Major public events will, of course, remain in their key locations, but when seen in connection with the clarifying latent landscape they appear to occupy rather different positions than heretofore. The American Revolution, for example, transformed American life and influenced the course of events elsewhere in the world. That manifest event will not be obscured by discoveries of events of another order, but explanations of the origins, development, and consequences of the Revolution are beginning to take on quite different forms in the light of latent events that are now being uncovered. For the extraction of quantitative information from records that were never intended to provide such data makes it possible to detect events in the population and migration history of the pre-Revolutionary years that profoundly affected government policy, settlement patterns, and attitudes to authority, all of which helped shape the origins and outcome of the Revolution. How could the treatment of slavery have been uniform throughout the newly independent American states given the different balances of Creoles and Africans that we have recently discovered existed and given the different degrees and forms of assimilation that we now know developed and that have only recently been located with some precision on the chronological map of American history?19
The integration of latent and manifest events was not planned. It was no one's "research design." It is emerging from the inner logic of historiography itself, which is to say, from the convergence of the efforts of many historians working on different problems and with different kinds of materials. Similarly, there is nothing preconcerted or designed in a second general tendency that is now rapidly developing. It concerns spatial relationships rather than the relationship between different orders of events, and it may be approached historiographically.
One of the most remarkable aspects of recent historical scholarship is the speed with which certain key developments have swept through centers of research and among individual scholars throughout the Western world. The study of family history in its modern form is usually thought to have originated with French scholars building on a long tradition of research in demography. The subject was picked up in England, where David Glass and others had been studying population trends in early modern history but without focusing on the sociological questions probed by the French, and was then developed with remarkable enterprise and imagination--promoted, indeed, with missionary zeal--in Cambridge University. From there it spread to the United States, where some of us had already been considering the same questions of structure and magnitudes and what might be called the social psychology of the family. But lacking quantitative measures or a technique for developing them, we had relied on the earlier, prestatistical writings of the British historians (which they themselves soon thereafter rejected, along with the work of those of us who had been so naive as to believe them) and on studies done by sociologists who had no idea of what had actually happened in the past.20 Once the signals from abroad became more reliable and a technique for assembling statistical information became available, research in the history of the family took off in America and has now developed, in typical American fashion, into a decentralized, undisciplined, highly idiosyncratic, but creative academic industry.21 All of this cumulating work in family history has most recently reached Germany, whose records--especially the excellent genealogical records, enhanced by the Nazis' extraordinary Ortssippenbücher written to document "pure Aryan" blood lines--will make possible a new level of accomplishment in this kind of study.22
What happened in family history happened, too, in historical community studies, in the history of population trends, in the study of modernization, in the history of social structures, and in the excavation of the buried details of eighteenth-century political thought. Discoveries in one country, in one scholarly culture, quickly affected scholarship advancing in other countries.23 Students of American history have good reason, for their own proper work, to examine Pierre Goubert's history of the Beauvaisis, John Patten's studies of East Anglian towns, R. A. Butlin's survey of Irish towns, and Gerald L. Soliday's report on Marburg in Upper Hesse;24 to compare local community controls in Germany, as described in Mack Walker's German Home Towns, with those of England described in Peter Clark and Paul Slack's volumes and in John Patten's book on the same subject; to consider Étienne François's account of the lower classes and poverty in the Rhenish court towns together with Olwen Hufton's The Poor of Eighteenth-Century France when assessing Alice Hansen Jones's Wealth of a Nation to Be;25 to examine as a basis for comparison with their own materials both the publications of Sune Åkerman and others in Uppsala on migration patterns in Scandinavia and the essays on Spanish migration by Magnus Mörner, Peter Boyd-Bowman, and Gilbert Din;26 and to ponder Franco Venturi's many writings on Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments (1764), so popular and somehow "relevant" in late-eighteenth-century America, though it originated as a polemic in the altogether different world of Habsburg Milan, dominated by a hereditary patriciate allied to the nobility and the Catholic Church.27
There is nothing new in kind in this transnational communication and interaction. Historical scholarship has always been an international enterprise. But seldom has communication been as direct and continuous as it now is. And, more important, never, as far as I know, has the availability of comparable information from far-distant areas in itself reinforced so naturally a major analytical concept. For what is emerging from all of this transnational communication of parallel information is not merely a catalogue of differences and similarities and not simply a progressive sophistication of technique by the application of many minds working in different traditions on similar problems, but something more important: the sense of large-scale systems of events operating over various areas. A rescaling of perspective has begun to take place in which the basic unit of discussion is larger than any of the traditional units within which research began. Large-scale orbits developing through time have become visible, and within them patterns of filiation and derivation.
Since my interests focus on the Anglo-American world in the early modern period, I naturally became aware of this kind of configuration in that connection. My first inkling of what would develop in this aspect of historical study came over twenty-five years ago in casual conversations with a colleague expert in the Scottish Enlightenment. It became apparent to us as we talked not simply that the leaders of Revolutionary America and of Enlightenment Scotland shared certain ideas but that the distinctively developing cultures in the two countries were fundamentally shaped by similar relationships to a single, central cultural core, in London. This common marginality--a similar distance from and involvement with the same central core--was a shaping element in the growth of each of these provincial cultures and was necessary to explain both. We tried, rather too ambitiously, to draw out the implications of this observation in an essay entitled "England's Cultural Provinces: Scotland and America."28 We were convinced that the formulation was correct, but we did not then realize the magnitude of the issues. We did not know how our literary data related to an overall British Atlantic social system or what other kinds of events and documentation might be seen to be involved in this system. Indeed, we did not know what kind of a system, one small corner of which we were examining, this really was.
At about the same time David Quinn began publishing some unusually suggestive studies of England's overseas expansion and settlement in the sixteenth century. In them he noted, first, that many of those who were involved in settlements in Ireland were also involved in settlements in America; and, second, that the attitude of the English to natives encountered in these two colonial areas was remarkably similar, and that experience gained in one area was automatically applied in the other.29 From Quinn's writing alone one began to see that the origins of England's overseas empire were part of something more comprehensive, which included the British Isles themselves as well as overseas territories. What was involved was an expansion of the English, later British, world from its core in southeastern England out into a series of expanding alien peripheries--Wales and the North Country of England in the sixteenth century, Scotland, Ireland, and North America in the seventeenth century. Phrases linking various British overseas territories, scarcely noticed before, suddenly took on heavy meaning: Ireland was described in a travel book of 1617, for example, as "this famous island in the Virginian sea."30 One could envision a huge, outwardly expanding peripheral arc sweeping north and west from London and the Home Counties into Wales and Lowland Scotland, across Ireland, southwest through Newfoundland, then down the North American coast through Nova Scotia, New England, the Chesapeake, and the Carolinas, and ending in the many Anglo-American settlements in the Caribbean. This arc was nothing so simple as the trade route of an empire in the traditional sense, commercial or territorial. Nor was it merely an expanding frontier line. It was not a line, an edge, comprehensible in Turnerian terms as such, but a ring of territories, of marchlands, separated in important ways from the territories on either side of it.31 In these linked territories a central culture encountered a variety of different human and physical environments and formed a variety of new subcultures, all of which were contained within a single overall system that might be designated "British." But, even broadened out to all of these magnitudes, one's vision proved to be too restricted. It remained for J.G.A. Pocock, a New Zealander educated in England and long resident in the United States, to suggest that this entire interactive Atlantic culture system, this huge band of variant marchlands, was in itself only a segment of a global system that ultimately reached Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the Pacific world as well.32
The ramifications of such a view--applicable to far more than the British world or to the other world empires--are extensive and important. Issues arising in various locations within the periphery, which once seemed disparate and discrete, can now be seen to be closely related, and the relationships help explain the course of events. In this perspective, for example, it becomes apparent that official British policy, promulgated in London, restraining the settlement of the trans-Appalachian west in America was shaped in part by attitudes to Scotland and Ireland--the fear of Scottish and absentee Irish landlords in high office in London that their lands would be depopulated by the extension of settlement in America and, hence, that the economic stability of their lives would be threatened as Americans migrated west into areas four thousand miles from Whitehall.33 One suddenly understands the reach and penetration of Dr. Johnson's imagination when he observed, on his tour of the western Scottish islands in 1773, that the attraction of the American frontier to discontented Highlanders on the Scottish frontier was a threat to the survival of British culture. Highlanders relocated on the far western British periphery, he said, will simply be lost to the nation: "For a nation scattered in the boundless regions of America resembles rays diverging from a focus. All the rays remain but the heat is gone. Their power consisted in their concentration: when they are dispersed, they have no effect."34 Was such a dispersal outward from the center to the margins, with its attendant loss of "concentration," wise? Could it be stopped? Could British law be used to prevent the circulation of British people along the peripheries of British territory? What should be the proper relationships of the outer boundaries to each other and to the core? These problems, which take on meaning only insofar as one grasps not just the eighteenth-century American frontier but the British world system in its entirety, were being discussed actively at the highest level of the British government in November and December 1773 and were at the point of resolution in a controversial proposal that Parliament prohibit further British migration to America, when the conflict between Britain and the colonies put an end to the discussion.35
Migration and the problem of the imperial constitution are two aspects of the general issue of core-periphery relations in the early modern British world; there are others. Political institutions and political ideas whose origins lay in the heartland took on different forms in the differing peripheral settings. It was the peculiar impact of American circumstances on political forms and ideas emanating from the metropolitan culture of Britain that determined the shape of public institutions in the United States.36 But this pan-Atlantic British system of the early modern period cannot be understood in isolation from certain other large systems of the time. Essential to it are intersections with other systems moving discretely within their own patterns.
An explanation of the population history of British North America in the preindustrial period also involves the depiction of a Central European system concentrated in the upper Rhineland but spreading out northeast to the Danish border, east to Bohemia, and southeast through the Danubian basin to southern Russia. Spin-offs from that distinctive and independently evolving system, whose major flows were eastward into Prussia, the Habsburg lands, and Russia, entered directly into the British galaxy of the eighteenth century as the first of some seventy-five thousand "Germans" (in fact, Swiss and French Protestants from the region of Montbéliard as well as subjects of the German princes) began moving down the Rhine, transshipping at Rotterdam and Cowes to reach the Insel, as it was sometimes called in the Rhineland, of Bintzel-vannier (Pennsylvania). Not only can one plot the intersection of the central European population system with the British, but one can identify individuals whose role it was to forge links between the two independently moving orbits--Benjamin Furly, William Penn's friend and agent, long resident in Rotterdam--merchant, intellectual, land developer, and defender of liberal causes. was the first of these key figures. But the intersections were not limited to Europe; they involved West Africa as well. For the West African population system, too, spilled over into segments of the British Atlantic world, which was spreading deep into the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys, along the Florida coasts, and within the maritime provinces of Canada.38 To see the whole of the entire set of interrelated systems that impinged on preindustrial America one would have to circle the globe like a satellite and note the simultaneous movement of peoples and cultures across a vast area--an area stretching from the Elbe to the Mississippi and from the North Sea to the Congo.
Such a synoptic view develops most readily from the study of population movements. But the concept of inclusive systems with centers and margins, whose integrity as systems is essential to understanding the individual parts within them, is applicable in many spheres. The heart of the transformation of the Roman state and society that Syme narrated in The Roman Revolution lay in the reconstitution of the governing class by recruitment from the provinces. "The strength and vitality of an empire," Syme wrote, "is frequently due to the new aristocracy from the periphery." From Roman Spain, he explained, local notables
migrate to the capital in permanence; they purchase mansions at Rome, villas and estates in the fashionable vicinity; they invade the high strata of society; they contract marriage alliances with Italian families, and even with the old Roman aristocracy; and also, and naturally, with similar groups of rising families from other provinces. . . . They began as clients of the Caesars and they end by supplanting them.
And, in an interesting sketch, Syme discussed the failure of this recruitment, reinforcement, and freshening from the overseas peripheries in the case of the Spanish and the first British empires.39
A similarly synoptic view has proved effective in intellectual history as well, most notably in two series of distinguished publications. The first is Franco Venturi's sensitive description of the radiations of the Enlightenment from its center in Paris to the near peripheries in Western Europe. Spain, Italy, Corsica, Austria, Germany, and England--and then to the outer margins in Eastern Europe, Russia, and North America. With his exceptional linguistic ability and his broad vision, Venturi has been able to show not merely the general penetration of reform ideas into the remote provinces of the Western world but also the specific adaptations of these ideas that were made in different cultures. His elaborate tracing of the circulation of Beccaria's On Crimes and Punishments from its origins in Milan through the whole of Europe shows the possibility of this kind of study. The second is J.G.A. Pocock's elaborate tracing of a single body of political thought--the peculiar language and grammar of "civic humanism". from Florence to England, Scotland, and America. "A 'language' is uncovered in sixteenth-century Florence," Pocock wrote in a recent summary, "and shown becoming first Puritan, then Whig, then American" as it circulated "away from Europe, towards what is least European in the Anglophone (or 'Atlantic') world."40
In a different vein, closer to the approach of François Furet and his collaborators in the collective inquiry Livre et Société, is Robert Darnton's book on the publishing history and distribution of the Encyclopédie. Through an exhaustive examination of the marketing of the quarto edition of the Encyclopédie, Darnton traced the distribution of this key work of the Enlightenment--and, hence, to a significant degree the diffusion of the Enlightenment itself--from the center in Paris to the French provinces and then out to the Low Countries, the Rhineland, "the north European plains to the Scandinavian fjords and the Russian steppes until finally it reached remote outposts like Lex's bookshop in Warsaw and Rüdiger's in Moscow." Through Darnton's eyes we can picture volumes being "hauled across the snow from Leipzig [to St. Petersburg] by sled," and moving up the Elbe and the Moldau, across the Alps to Turin, down the Rhône to Marseilles and Genoa, and along the, Danube to Pest, "where," Darnton wrote, "Paris seemed centuries away in contrast to the immediacy of the Ottoman Empire and the unremitting warfare on the eastern front of western culture."41 A similarly comprehensive view enabled Robert Palmer and, to a lesser extent, Jacques Godechot to grasp as a singular concatenation of events the pan-European and American explosions of "democratic revolutions" of the late eighteenth century. The possibilities have been shown to be rich in other spheres as well--in analyzing the history of domestic politics (notably American Populism) and a wide range of contemporary phenomena: international relations, political geography, the value systems of organized society, urban environments, and the dissemination of art forms, both fine and applied. And other orbits can be envisioned in other connections: news dissemination, technical expertise, literary forms, business practices.42
Thus, it seems to me, in the welter of historical publications, there are not only signs of a deepening interpenetration of latent and manifest events but also the outlines of systems of filiation and derivation among phenomena that once were discussed in isolation from each other. And, third, there is also in motion in current historical writing an intensifying effort to relate the world of interior, subjective experiences to the course of external events.
Long before it became fashionable to talk about the study of mentalité, and well before William Langer had challenged historians to take as their next assignment the application of psychoanalytic principles to historical problems,43 historians had attempted to describe the state of people's awareness. They had sought to depict, however crudely, not only people's ideas and beliefs as expressed in formal discourse but their deeper, interior life: the assumptions, attitudes, fears, expectations, and aspirations that together formed people's private construction of the world, their personal map of reality, their system of ordering life, of imposing meaning on the stream of experience. But it has always been extremely difficult to probe the strange interior worlds of the past, partly because the historian has no means of inquiring directly into the condition of people's awareness, partly because in the end historians are more interested in communities of people than in unique individuals. The characterization of a community's interior life, even when its members stand alive before one, available for interviewing, polling, and participant observation, is problematic for the anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists who design methods precisely for such studies. For historians, lacking living subjects and dependent on random documentation, all of the difficulties are compounded.
Occasionally there has been a Huizinga capable of painting a more or less convincing picture of a great transition in a society's perception of the world by an impressionistic study of art forms and by imaginative projection into the likely experiences of everyday life. And there have been books like Oscar Handlin's The Uprooted (1951) that trace, through empathy and intuition as well as through documentation, the inner lives of generations of people adjusting to new environments. But most such efforts turn into a vague literary impressionism that reveals as much about the author as about the past, or into a study of formal texts that are supposed somehow to add up to a picture of the "mind of the Middle Ages," l'esprit laïque, or l'esprit bourgeois. Even in what would seem to be the most manageable aspect of the problem--in the biographies of key historical figures whose individual actions unquestionably shaped events and about whom a great deal is known--the difficulties of exploring interior worlds of subjective experience are great. In any case, collective biography is most often the main question for historians, and to probe beyond what people did, wrote, and said to what they experienced, how they felt, and how they comprehended the world remains a major challenge to historical investigation.
In certain areas historical scholarship has shown great progress in recent years in reaching into subjective experience. While technical psychohistory is still more a matter of theoretical discussion by social scientists than of scholarly practice by historians, ways have been found to explore public opinion in the past, attitudes of various kinds, and the pervasiveness and circulation of certain key notions. The range of such studies has been broad. Political thought has provided an important entrée. Working out from the strict genealogy of ideas to the broader aspects of political thought where ideas connect with more general social assumptions and attitudes, historians have been able to enter private worlds otherwise closed to them. So Gordon Schochet's Patriarchalism is ostensibly a study in "political thought," but, in fact, it relates a key concept in political thought to deep-lying social attitudes shared as interior experiences by whole populations in the seventeenth century. W. H. Greenleaf's Order, Empiricism, and Politics is also explicitly a study in political thought; but in fact it explores certain presumptions concerning the nature of reality in the broadest sense, the "great hinterland" of beliefs, attitudes, ideas, and assumptions experienced by whole populations. So too, in different ways, do the books and articles of a whole squadron of writers on political "ideology" involved in the American, French, and Russian Revolutions.44
And other, even more original and imaginative ways have been found to enter the realm of interior experience. Some of the most interesting have reached into nonverbal expressions of private experience and established subtle connections between nonverbal and verbal communication. Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, in which aspects of interior worlds are uncovered through examination of the connections among a variety of expressions of art forms, has set an attractive new style in scholarship. Schorske's deliberate fusings of urban architecture and political attitudes, of painting and "the liberal ego," and of the descriptive and metaphoric meanings of the garden. these connections among art forms and public life, constructed into a general picture of a community's "psyche," are already being emulated and seem destined to shape the work of many historians of culture seeking a deeper understanding of human experience than traditional historical analysis provides. Schorske's style was, in fact, influential even before his book appeared. Six years earlier his student William McGrath published Dionysian Art and Populist Politics in Austria, which not only demonstrates the common pan-Germanistic roots of both Viktor Adler's socialism and Gustav Mahler's music and "meta-musical cosmos" (passages from the score of Mahler's Third Symphony precede a chapter on the Liberals' Linz Program) but locates the exact origins of all of these diverging lines of history in the shared outlook, the common interior world, of a particular circle of students in the 1870s, a circle that first formed in a single secondary school, Vienna's Schottengymnasium, and then in a political club at the University of Vienna.45 These writings on the German-speaking world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writings that are beginning to form a genre of their own, may one day be brought into useful comparisons with accounts of similar circles in other cultures: Bloomsbury, Yeats' Dublin, or Herzen's world of Russian exiles in London, for example, circles with distinctive and highly articulated sensibilities, attitudes, and world views. And, indeed, it may be possible to depict the cultural history of an entire era in terms of key "circles" of shared feelings and outlooks.
Studies like Schorske's Vienna and McGrath's Dionysian Art have concentrated on art forms in probing perceptions of the world, orderings of reality. But the perceptions and orderings that they depict are those of highly cultivated individuals whose relation to ordinary experience may be remote. Efforts have also been made to compose pictures of the inner experiences of less cultivated people--to map the private worlds of ordinary people. Recent studies in popular culture based on nonverbal, behavioral expressions have been revealing--studies like those of Natalie Davis on the festivals of misrule in sixteenth-century France, of Rhys Isaac on the political theatre of eighteenth-century Virginia, and of John Brewer on popular mock elections in Georgian England, a work whose main sources are satirical prints.46 But the most extreme and impressive examples are found in two areas. The first is in nineteenth-century French history: in Theodore Zeldin's extraordinary account of "the common beliefs, attitudes and values of Frenchmen," their "unspoken assumptions," their "ambitions, human relationships and the forces which influenced thinking"; and in Guy Thuillier's exploration of the color, sound, taste, pace, and tactile feel of the life of ordinary people in Nevers--the invisible quotidien of existence, seen in the use of water, personal hygiene, the pattern of rising and retiring, the "archaeology of gestures," all of which he drew from a great mass of documents buried accidentally, like tiny chips of stone, in the vast landscape of the past. The second area lies in the exploration of religious sensibilities in the widest and subtlest sense, ranging from Norman Cohn's Pursuit of the Millennium, on medieval chiliastic movements, and Perry Miller's volumes on the anatomy of the New England mind, to the remarkable studies by Keith Thomas and Alan Macfarlane on the psychology and sociology of witchcraft and magic in early modern England. These are pathbreaking books, rich and carefully nuanced.47
At the level, then, simply of the depiction of interior worlds. patterns of attitudes, beliefs, fears, and aspirations that together organize people's engagement with the exterior world. progress has been made, and there is no question, it seems to me, that we will see much more of this kind of history, ranging from further studies in political ideology to an expanded cartography of the invisible quotidien and of religious sensibilities. But in the end the question historians must answer is the relation of these interior worlds to the exterior world of palpable historical events. How is this area of private history, reflecting interior states of awareness, to be related to the external course of events in the past, events of a public nature? To leave these private worlds isolated from the public. to keep the internal separated from the external and to ignore the problem of the effects of the one upon the other. is to evade the central obligation of history, which is to describe how and explain why the course of events took the path it did.
There is no issue of principle here. Obviously what people did was related to what they carried about in their heads: their feelings, their attitudes, their construction of reality. This is obvious in studying individuals, but in studying "peoples" the question skitters off into "climates of opinion" vaguely, if at all, related to the determination of specific events. The problem is inescapable, however, and more and more, in the years ahead, historians will seek answers. They will, that is, seek connections between interior world views--shared attitudes and responses and "mind-sets"--and the course of external events. But, as responses to recent forays into this terrain at the rather obvious level of exploring the "ideological origins" of certain major political events have indicated, establishing the relation of outward events to the submerged world of private awareness is difficult and bound to be controversial.
Thus, within the great mass of contemporary historiography there are, it seems to me, at least three general trends in motion, three lines of development generated by the force of scholarship itself, which will in varying ways enrich, but also complicate, any comprehensive narratives that are written: the fusion of latent and manifest events; the depiction of large-scale spheres and systems organized as peripheries and cores; and the description of internal states of mind and their relation to external circumstances and events. None of this, of course, is wholly new. Each has anticipations and early formulations. The Marxists have always struggled to construe history as the manifestation of latent events. Toynbee's construction of history, within his leading notion of challenge and response, is that of central and marginal orbits of world civilizations. And not only did Burckhardt in his Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) examine world views, attitudes, and intellectual styles, but a century ago Karl Lamprecht, once a fiercely controversial figure and now largely forgotten, advocated a historiography explicitly and "scientifically" concentrated on collective psychology and internal states of awareness. Lamprecht's search for the "Seelenleben, the psychic life, psychic activity, psychic state" of the German Volk led him into studies of individual as well as collective consciousness and of external artifacts of all kinds as expressions of subjective experience.48 But these anticipations of the present ferment in history were either isolated, programmatic, or metahistorical, or they were caught up in heady delusions about history becoming a "science". a notion that has persisted, in varying forms, from Lamprecht's time and before through the New Historians of the early twentieth century to the more enthusiastic Annales scholars of our own time, to receive what one hopes will be its terminal apotheosis at the hands of our colleague, Robert Fogel.49
What distinguishes the present developments I have sketched is that they are substantive, not methodological or merely exhortative. Further, the works involved are not isolated probes by uniquely imaginative individuals but the cumulating work of many scholars, most of whom are unaware that they are contributing to a general development. And, above all, they are rich enough in content to bear directly on the fulfillment, at a new level of sophistication, of the ultimate purpose of all historical scholarship, comprehensive narration. The greatest challenge that will face historians in the years ahead, it seems to me, is not how to deepen and further sophisticate their technical probes of life in the past (that effort will, and of course should, continue in any case) but how to put the story together again, now with a complexity and an analytic dimension never envisioned before; how to draw together the information available (quantitative and qualitative, statistical and literary, visual and oral) into readable accounts of major developments. These narratives will incorporate anecdote but they will not be essentially anecdotal; they will include static, "motionless" portrayals of situations, circumstances, and points of view of the past, but they will be essentially dynamic; they will concentrate on change, transition, and the passage of time; and they will show how major aspects of the present world were shaped--acquired their character--in the process of their emergence. No effective historian of the future can be innocent of statistics, and indeed he or she should probably be a literate amateur economist, psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and geographer. In the end, however, historians must be, not analysts of isolated technical problems abstracted from the past, but narrators of worlds in motion--worlds as complex, unpredictable, and transient as our own. The historian must re-tell, with a new richness, the story of what some one of the worlds of the past was, how it ceased to be what it was, how it faded and blended into new configurations, how at every stage what was, was the product of what had been, and developed into what no one could have anticipated. all of this to help us understand how we came to be the way we are, and to extend the poor reach of our own immediate experience.
Bernard Bailyn received his PhD from Harvard in 1953, where he has taught since 1949. His most noted works include The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967), which won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes, The Origins of American Politics (1968); The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (1974), which won the National Book Award, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction (1986); and Voyagers to the West (1986), which won another Pulitzer Prize. Bailyn's work transformed the study of the early American history and the American Revolution by placing new emphasis on the role of ideology and "republican" ideas in the thinking of the leaders of the American Revolution. [back to top]
1 I presented some initial thoughts on the themes
of this address at a conference on History in the 80s, held in Bellagio,
Italy, June 1980. I would like to thank Barbara DeWolfe for her expert
and diligent help on the research that is reflected in this paper. I am
indebted, too, to several colleagues who read and criticized the paper in
[back to text]
4. Charles M. Andrews, "On the Writing of Colonial
History," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser.,
1 (1944): 31-33. Andrews's essay, a posthumously published apologia for
his prodigious accomplishments in Anglo-American history, centers on the
conceptual problems of social history. Andrews described his framing ideas
in writing The Colonial Period of American History
(1934-38) and then explained that he had intended to go beyond these
four volumes focused on the institutional "framework of constituted
authority" to a volume on "colonial life in the eighteenth century, . . .
an omnium gatherum of everything not
political, institutional, or military." But how was such a volume to be
organized? He confessed himself perplexed. He could see no structure to
the subject in acceptable historical terms. that is, as development,
process, evolution. Two approaches seemed possible, neither acceptable. On
the one hand, the subject could be conceived of as "what is vaguely called
the 'social sciences'"; but history, he wrote, is not science:
"'scientific' treatment always tends toward over-rigidity and a mechanical
interpretation of the subject matter that takes no account of the baffling
complexity of the human equation, and ignores. what cannot be ignored. the
inevitable presence of much that is casual and inexplicable." On the other
hand, it could be seen simply as the chaotic accumulation of "habits and
customs, ways of living, dressing, eating, and the performance of the
duties of existence." And that, too, was unsatisfactory, having neither
structure nor development. Some synthetic, structural, and above all
developmental theme was needed, he realized, and the best he could offer
was that of "a progressive movement . . . indicative of what may be called
an Americanizing process." It was precisely the concept of "society" that
he lacked, and his struggle to extemporize some approximation to that
conception is instructive.
[back to text]
6. See, for example, James Henretta's interesting
effort to generalize across the first group of early American community
studies. ‑Henretta, "The Morphology of New England Society in the Colonial
Period," Journal of Interdisciplinary History,
2 (1971): 379-98. and the criticism of that effort, based on new data
from a region only a few miles to the north, just then being assembled.
Darrett B. Rutman, "People in Process: The New Hampshire Towns in the
Eighteenth Century," Journal of Urban History,
1 (1975): 268-92. For a complete inversion of conclusions reached by
authors of notable recent community studies, see W. R. Prest, "Stability
and Change in Old and New England: Clayworth and Dedham," Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 6 (1976): 359-74.
[back to text]
7. Thus, Arthur Imhof hoped to see the whole of
German social history rewritten through a massive reconstruction of family
and community life over the past four to five hundred years; see his
"Historical Demography as Social History: Possibilities in Germany," Journal of Family History, 2 (1977): 305‑22.
[back to text]
9. See Bailyn,"Braudel's Geohistory. A
Reconsideration," Journal of Economic
History>, 11 (1951): 277-82. The literature on Braudel is, of
course, voluminous. For a general discussion of his writing, see the Journal of Modern History, 44 (1972): 447-539.
For some general thoughts on the Annales
phenomenon, see Bailyn, "Review Essay," Journal of Economic History, 37 (1977): 1028-34.
For an explanation of why the Annales
historians, led by Braudel, have concentrated on "motionless history"
("histoire immobile") at the expense of historical evolution and the
process of change, see H. L. Wesseling, "The Annales School and the Writing of Contemporary
History," Review [Binghamton, N.Y.], 1 (1978):
185-94. Cf. Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, "Motionless History," trans. John
Day, Social Science History, 1 (1977): 115.
[back to text]
10. J. H. Plumb, The
Growth of Political Stability in England, 1675-1725 (London, 1967),
xiv, xv. Namier was aware of the problem. He had originally intended to
write a narrative account of the British "political nation" during the
American Revolution, concentrating on "that marvellous microcosmos," the
British House of Commons. But he found that if he attempted a narrative,
"however much of general analysis I put into the introductory chapters,
lengthy digressions and appendices could not be avoided. too much in
eighteenth-century politics requires explaining." So, instead, he wrote
the two-volume Structure of Politics at the
Accession of George III (1929), a static analysis of
eighteenth-century politics as it existed at one point in time. He
continued to believe that this magisterial book was, "in a way,
introductory to my main work"; Structure of
Politics>, 1: vi, vii. Later his wife and biographer explained
Namier's perception of the problem he faced in apt metaphorical terms,
Namier, she wrote, saw two choices open to the historian. "The one he
likened to following a stream as a diarist on the move might, noting day
by day its twists and turns from the source, say in the hills, through
barely billowing land to the delta that fans out to the sea. The other was
to build across the river's course two dams and settle down to study that
section's significant detail; which study should include analyses of the
water and the river bed. Such was his choice in 1924," when he started out
on The Structure of Politics. Julia Namier, Lewis Namier, a Biography (London, 1971), 187. It
was this sacrifice of narrative to structure, as well as Namier's
rejection of beliefs and ideas as forces in history, that stimulated
Herbert Butterfield's bitter attacks on him; see especially Butterfield,
George III and the Historians (London, 1957),
bk. 3, sec. 3. In criticizing Namier personally for his handling of
political history, Butterfield anticipated the general problem of
historiography that developed later and that is the main theme of this
essay. "Over and above the structure of politics," Butterfield wrote, "we
must have a political history that is set out in narrative form. an
account of adult human beings, taking a hand in their fates and fortunes,
pulling at the story in the direction they want to carry it, and making
decisions of their own. We must have the kind of story in which (no matter
how much we know about the structure of politics and the conditions of the
time) we can never quite guess, at any given moment, what is going to
happen next. . . . Perhaps the ideal kind of history is the kind in which
a story is given and events are presented in motion, but the story is
re-told so to speak 'in depth,' so that it acquires a new dimension; it is
both structure and narrative combined. . . . Where history is both a story
and a study, one may gain a profounder insight into both the ways of men
and the processes of time." Ibid., 206.
[back to text]
11. I agree with much in Lawrence Stone's article,
"The Revival of Narrative," which I read after drafting this essay. But
while, in tracing a resurgent interest in narrative history of all kinds,
he was cautiously attempting only to "chart observed changes in historical
fashion," I am incautiously doing what he so carefully avoided, making
"value judgments about what are good, and what are less good, modes of
historical writing" in certain circumstances; I am attempting to suggest
why, in this era of great advances in highly professional, highly
technical scholarship, narration, accessible to a broad public, is
peculiarly necessary. Further, I am more concerned than he seems to be
about the sheer disarray and confusion in the proliferation of analytical
historiography. Finally, I do not think of narrative history, in the broad
sense I am using that term, as incompatible with analytical history. In my
view, it is the goal of narrative history, of the dimension now called
for, to incorporate the analytical findings. Stone, "The Revival of
Narrative: Reflections on a New Old History," Past
& Present, no. 85 (1979): 3-24.
[back to text]
13. Handlin and Handlin, The Dimensions of Liberty (Cambridge, Mass.,
1961); Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics
(London, 1952), chap. 6, esp. pp. 142, 145.>
[back to text]
16. Freud's use of "manifest content" in dream
analysis has been taken to mean "the descriptive narrative that the
subject puts forward at a time when he does not have the full meaning of
his dream at his disposal"; "latent analysis" for Freud was "a description
for everything that analysis gradually uncovers"; J. Laplanche and J.-B.
Pontalis, The Language of Psycho-Analysis,
trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (London, 1973), 243, 235. Cf. Robert Merton,
"Manifest and Latent Functions," in Social Theory
and Social Structure (Glencoe, Ill., 1949), chap. 1, esp. pp. 51, 61.
[back to text]
17. Russell Menard, "From Servants to Slaves: The
Transformation of the Chesapeake Labor System," Southern Studies, >16 (1977): 355. 90; and H.
A. Gemery, "Emigration from the British Isles to the New World, >1630.
1700: Inferences from Colonial Populations," in Paul Uselding, ed., Research in Economic History,> 5 (1980): 179.
[back to text]
19. William W. Freehling, "The Founding Fathers
and Slavery," AHR,> 77 (1972): 81. 93; Ira
Berlin, "Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society in
British Mainland North America," ibid.>, 85
[back to text]
21. For an effort to summarize and interpret the
virtual library of writings on Anglo-American family life in the early
modern period that has appeared in the twenty years since I attempted a
"hypothetical" sketch, based on the information then available, in Education in the Forming of American Society, see
Vivian C. Fox and Martin H. Quitt, Loving,
Parenting, and Dying: The Family Cycle in England and America, Past and
Present (New York, 1980), pt. 1.
[back to text]
22. See Imhof, "Historical Demography as Social
History." On the Ortssippenbücher, originally
projected as thirty thousand volumes of local history tracing kin
associations, to establish "pure" blood lines, from the sixteenth century
to the present, see John Knodel, "Ortssippenb>ücher als Quelle für die
Historische Demographie," Geschichte und
Gesellschaft>, 1 (1975): 288-324. An excellent example is the Ortssippenbuch >of the Palatine village of
Lambsheim: Heinrich Rembe, ed., Lambsheim: Die
Familien von 1547 bis 1800 . . ., volume 1 of the Heimatstelle Pfalz's
Beiträge zur Bevölkerungsgeschichte der Pfalz (Kaiserslautern, 1971). Excerpts from this volume related to the
American migration of the eighteenth century have been published in
translation by Don Yoder in Pennsylvania Folklife,
23, no. 2 (1973-74): 40ff.>
[back to text]
23. Communication has become almost instantaneous.
So Peter Laslett, visiting the United States after having completed the
manuscript of his Household and Family in Past
Time, was shown the draft of an imaginative monographic article by an
American graduate student on the life cycles of Austrian households in the
1760s. He saw the article's relevance immediately, and hastily amended his
manuscript to take account not merely of the new information but of a new
point of view, a new dimension of the subject, which thereupon became
built into the literature in a permanent way. See Laslett, Household and Family in Past Time, 21, 71, 150.
51. The manuscript was that of Lutz Berkner, published as "The Stern
Family and the Developmental Cycle of the Peasant Household: An
Eighteenth-Century Austrian Example," AHR, 77
(1972): 398-418. Berkner, however, was by no means satisfied that Laslett
incorporated into his thinking the main idea of that essay. the idea that,
studied as dynamic, living organisms, families were neither extended nor
nuclear in structure; at certain phases of their development they were
nuclear, at others extended. The basic argument of Household and Family in Past Time, Berkner wrote,
remained "that the family has been nuclear in most western societies in
the past," but the evidence produced in the book proves "nothing of the
sort." Berkner, "The Use and Misuse of Census Data for the Historical
Analysis of Family Structure," Journal of
Interdisciplinary History, 5 (1975): 738.
[back to text]
24. Goubert, Beauvais et
le Beauvaisis de1600 à 1730, 2 vols. (Paris, 1960); Patten, ed., Pre-Industrial England (Folkestone, Kent, 1979),
chaps. 2, 6, and Rural-Urban Migration in
Pre-Industrial England (Oxford University, School of Geography,
Research Paper no. 6, 1973); Butlin, ed., The
Development of the Irish Town (London, 1977), chap. 3; Soliday,
"Marburg in Upper Hesse: A Research Report," Journal of Family History, 2 (1977): 164-68.
[back to text]
25. Walker, German Home
Towns: Community State, and General Estate, 1648-1871 (Ithaca, N.Y.,
1971); Clark and Slack, eds., Crisis and Order in
English Towns, 1500-1700 (London, 1972), and English Towns in Transition (Oxford, 1976);
Patten, English Towns, 1500-1700 (Hamden,
Conn., 1978); François, "Unterschichten und Armut in rheinischen
Residenzstädten des 18. Jahrhunderts," Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und
Wirtschafisgeschichte, 62 (1975): 433-64; Hufton, The Poor of Eighteenth-Century France, 1750-1789
(Oxford, 1974); Jones, Wealth of a Nation to
Be: The American Colonies on the Eve of the Revolution (New York,
[back to text]
26. Harald Runblorn and Hans Norman, eds., From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration
(Minneapolis, 1976); Mörner, "Spanish Migration to the New World prior
to 1810: A Report on the State of Research," in Fredi Chiappelli et al., eds., First
Images of America: The Impact of the Old World on the New, 2 (Berkeley
and Los Angeles, 1976): 737-82; Boyd-Bowman, "Spanish Emigrants to the
Indies, 1595. 98: A Profile," ibid., 723-35;
Din, "Spanish Immigration to a French Land," Louisiana Review, 5 (1976): 63-80.
[back to text]
29. Quinn, Raleigh and the
British Empire (London, 1947), esp. chap. 5, and The Elizabethans and the Irish (Ithaca, N.Y.,
1966). For later developments of this theme, see Nicholas P. Canny, "The
Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 30 (1973):
575-98, and "The Permissive Frontier: The Problem of Social Control in
English Settlements in Ireland and Virginia, 1550-1650," in K. R. Andrews
et al., eds., The
Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic, and
America, 1480-1650 (Liverpool, 1978); James Muldoon, "The Indian as
Irishman," Essex Institute Historical
Collections, 111 (1975): 267-89.
[back to text]
31. Denys Hay made this point precisely in his
essay on the Scottish marchlands, "England, Scotland, and Europe: The
Problem of the Frontier," Transactions of the
Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., 25 (1975): 77. 91, esp. 80.
[back to text]
32. Pocock, "British History: A Plea for a New
Subject," Journal of Modern History, 47
(1975): 601-21. Cf. Michael Hechter, Internal
Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, 1536-1966
(London, 1975), and the exchange of views between Pocock and Hechter
following Pocock's article, pp. 626-28.
[back to text]
35. Rumors circulated continuously in 1773 that
parliamentary legislation was being drafted to prohibit all further
emigration to America, and in November 1773 two London newspapers (Lloyd's Evening Post, November 15-17, and the Public Advertiser, November 16) finally carried
the supposed text of a radical seven-point plan "to be proposed at the
next meeting of Parliament to prevent the emigration of our people to
America." Issued, no doubt, as Franklin surmised "to feel the pulse of the
public," it elicited from Franklin a carefully reasoned reply, which he
apparently never published, and touched off heated public debates not only
in the metropolitan areas of Britain but in some of the provinces as well.
[Franklin] The Papers of Benjamin Franklin,
20, ed. William B. Wilcox et al. (New
Haven, 1976): 522-28. Although a prohibitory bill was never enacted,
actions of other kinds were undertaken. Some of the most powerful men in
Ireland (including Franklin's bête noir, the
former secretary of state for the colonies, Lord Hillsborough), who were
supporting prohibitory legislation, formed an association to lower rents
where they were felt to be oppressive; And in Scotland, the Lord Justice
Clerk, Thomas Miller, began a parish-by-parish survey of the magnitude of the exodus, an inquiry that
was eventually extended by the British government to the registration of
every British subject who left Britain from December 1773 to March 1776.
The subject is discussed in general and a statistical analysis of the
resulting register of English and Scottish emigrants is presented in my
forthcoming Voyagers to the West.
[back to text]
36. Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), esp. chaps. 5, 6; Gordon S. Wood, Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, 1969), pt. 2.[back to text]
37. Otto Langguth, "Pennsylvania German Pioneers from the County of Wertheim," >[Yearbook of>] The Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, 12 (1947): 169. 70. There is no comprehensive account of the Central European population movements. For a brief sketch of these flows as they relate to the migration to Pennsylvania and for references to a few of the many German writings on the subject, see Marianne Wokeck, "The Flow and Composition of German Immigration to Philadelphia, 1727-1775," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 105 (1981): 274. 78.[back to text]
38. William I. Hull, Benjamin Furly and Quakerism in Rotterdam (Swarthmore, Pa., 1941), and William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania (Swarthmore, Pa., 1935), esp. 328-45; Philip D. Curtin, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison, Wis., 1975), chaps. 2-4.[back to text]
40. Much of the argument of Venturi's three-volume Settecento riformatore (Turin, 1969. 79), which traces the spread of Enlightenment ideas throughout the Western world, is summarized in his Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1971) and in his "Church and Reform in Enlightenment Italy: The Sixties of the Eighteenth Century," Journal of Modern History, 48 (1976): 215-32. He began his tracking of the circulation of Beccaria's ideas in a report to an international conference on Beccaria convened by the Academy of Sciences of Turin in 1964 (the proceedings of which were published by the academy in 1966) and brought his work together in an edition of Beccaria's treatise, which reprints the work itself in 104 pages and then presents as a 547-page appendix a documentary history of the origins of the book in Milan and its reception in Italy, France, England, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. Cesare Beccaria, Dei delitti e delle pene (1764), ed. Franco Venturi (Turin, 1965; 3d edn., 1973); for a summary, see Venturi, Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment, chap. 4. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, 1975), and "The Machiavellian Moment Revisited: A Study in History and Ideology," Journal of Modern History, 53 (1981): 71[back to text]
41. Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 1775-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), 530, chaps. 6, 10, apps. B, C, and "The Encyclopédie Wars of Prerevolutionary France," AHR, 78 (1973): 1346-52. Cf. François Furet et al., Livre et soci>ét>é dans la France du XVIIIe siècle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1965. 70).[back to text]
42. R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, 2 vols. (Princeton, 1959-64); and Godechot, La Grande Nation: L'Expansion r>évolutionnaire de la France dans le monde, de 1789 à 1799, 2 vols. (Paris, 1956). On Populism as a movement "on the fringe of the metropolitan culture," see James Turner, "Understanding the Populists," Journal of American History, 67 (1980-81): esp. 370. 71. For twelve wide-ranging essays applying this concept, covering political geography in general, America's place in the world, the regionalism of social change in Italy, nation-building in southeastern Europe, newly independent island clusters, bilingualism in Montreal, a "geoethnic-geoeconomic-geopolitical model of differentiation within western Europe," and the splintering of states in Eurasia, see Jean Gottmann, ed., Centre and Periphery: Spatial Variations in Politics (Beverly Hills, 1980). On value systems and social organization, see Edward Shils, "Centre and Periphery," in The Logic of Personal Knowledge: Essays Presented to Michael Polanyi on His Seventieth Birthday, 11th March 1961 (London ), 117-30. For an attempt to use this concept to explain "capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century," see Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System, I (New York, 1974); in the second volume (New York, 1980), the same scheme is used in an effort to explain "mercantilism and the consolidation of the European world-economy, 1600-1750." For orbits of cultural dissemination, see, for example, Milton Newton, "Cultural Preadaptation and the Upland South," in H. J. Walker and W. G. Haag, eds., Man and Cultural Heritage, volume 5 of Geoscience and Man (Baton Rouge, La., 1974), 143-54; Robert D. Mitchell, "The Formation of Early American Culture Regions: An Interpretation," in James R. Gibson, ed., European Settlement and Development in North America: Essays on Geographical Change in Honour and Memory of Andrew Hill Clark (Toronto, 1978), 66. 90; C. Lee Hopple, "Spatial Development of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Plain Dutch Community to 1970," Pennsylvania Folklife, 21 (1971. 72), no. 2: 14-40, and no. 3: 36-45; E. Estyn Evans, "The Scotch-Irish: Their Cultural Adaptation and Heritage in the American Old West," in E.R.R. Green, ed., Essays in Scotch-Irish History (New York, 1969), 69-86.[back to text]
44. Gordon J. Schochet, Patiriarchalism in Political Thought (New York, 1975), esp. chaps. 3, 4; Greenleaf, Order, Empiricism, and Politics: Two Traditions of English Political Thought, 1500-1700 (London, 1964). For a review of such writings on American themes, see Robert E. Shalhope, "Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 29 (1972): 49-80.[back to text]
46. Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford, 1975), chap. 4; Isaac, "Dramatizing the Ideology of Revolution: Popular Mobilization in Virginia, 1774-1776," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 33 (1976): 357-85; Brewer, "Theatre and Counter-Theatre in Georgian Politics: The Mock Election at Garrat," Radical History Review, 22 (1979-80): 7-40.[back to text]
47. Zeldin, France, 1848. 1945, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1973. 77), 1: 2, 8; Thuillier, Pour une histoire du quotidien an XIXe siècle en Nivernais (Paris, 1977); Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (New York, 1957); Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass., 1939), and The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge, Mass., 1953); Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971); Macfarlane, Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1970). See also Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (Paris, 1976), translated into English by Barbara Bray (London, 1978).[back to text]
48. Toynbee's sweeping perspective gave him range to perceive the existence of such orbits long before there was evidence with which to describe them accurately; his writing on this theme is, therefore, at times quite fanciful. See, ].'Or example, his discussion of "Scotland. Ulster. Appalachia," in A Study of History>, 2 (London, >1934): 309-13, which is in general a perceptive sketch of the British marchlands of the early modern period but which contains such wonderful passages as the following: "the Appalachian 'Mountain People' at this day are no better than barbarians. They are the American counterparts of the latter-day White barbarians of the Old World: the Rifis and Kabyles and Tuareg, the Albanians and Caucasians, the Kurds and the Pathans and the Hairy Ainu." But, despite such analogies, Toynbee well understood the relation of the domestic British "Völkerwanderung" and interior marches to the North American frontier. He drew some remarkable insights from a book now long forgotten that anticipated with surprising clarity the ideas of Quinn, Canny, and Muldoon: William C. Macleod, The American Indian Frontier (London, 1928), chap. 13: "Celt and Indian: Britain's Old World Frontier in Relation to the New." Toynbee, A Study of History, 1 (London, 1934): Annex, pp. 465-67. Three decades later, Toynbee enthusiastically introduced a new edition of Walter Prescott Webb's The Great Frontier (Austin, 1964), a book in which Webb, magnifying Frederick Jackson Turner's interpretation of American history to global dimensions, wrote of the interplay between the Great Frontier in the colonial territories and the Metropolis in Europe as "the drama of western history." For Quinn, Canny, and Muldoon, see note 28, above. On Lamprecht, see Karl J. Weintraub, Visions of Culture (Chicago, 1966), 167, chap. 4; and Annie M. Popper, "Karl Lamprecht," in Bernadotte Schmitt, ed., Some Historians of Modern Europe (Chicago, 1942), 217-39. Lamprecht's ideas, which created a storm in Germany, were rejected there and his prodigious efforts (including his twenty-one-volume Deutsche Geschichte) written off as a tissue of errors, hopelessly schematic and methodologically unsound. But he was honored by historians in the United States, who found. in the broadly based psychogenetic Kulturgeschichte he advocated and wrote. elements of the reform program that would become known as the New History. (The name itself seems to have originated in a favorable review essay: E. W. Dow, "Features of the New History: Apropos of Lamprecht's 'Deutsche Geschichte,'" AHR>, 3 [1897. 98]: 431-48.) Carl Becker was particularly intrigued and puzzled by Lamprecht's ideas. They seemed to support his interest in climates of opinion but yet to verge on sheer fancy. Lamprecht's concentration on the "one common underlying psychic mechanism" in the histories of nations and cultures, Becker wrote, threatened to transform the real substance of history into "social experience deposited in nerve centers." Becker, "Some Aspects of the Influence of Social Problems and Ideas upon the Study and Writing of History," American Journal of Sociology, 18 (1913): 673. 74.[back to text]
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