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Eighty years have passed since a young Cambridge don named Herbert Butterfield published in a slender volume entitled The Whig. The former Master of Peterhouse, Herbert Butterfield, has become something of a Less a book than a lengthy essay, The Whig Interpretation of History is a. Herbert Butterfield (). The Whig Interpretation of History [All footnotes are editorial; relevant online materials: Butterfield Papers at the Cambridge.

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This comment follows Butterfield’s discussion of how a historian shapes the past from their present perspective, not necessarily in the extreme distortion of the Whigs, but with regard to phrasing and presentation, so that the past becomes familiar and understandable to their contemporary audience. He rightly cautions us away from linear, progressive, value-laden, reductionist interpretations of history toward an approach that appreciates the diversity and the meanderings of the past and one that sees the events and people of the past as they saw themselves.

The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield | Reviews in History

The Underlying Assumption 3. Refresh and try again.

I will re-read sections this weekend. To me, this was a statement in favor of history’s independence from the dominance Aug 23, Lee Belbin rated it really liked it. After the war the emphasis reversed: He was knighted in Open Preview See a Problem? Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account. I strongly agree with much of this, but I’m not sure the book starts out on the right track.

Account Options Sign in. Butterrield me down as a whig. It brings to light overlooked assumptions and presents a sharp critique of historians who simplify history and adore it only for what it can give to the present. The “whig interpretation,” as Butterfield calls it, sees history as a struggle between a succession of good libertarian parties and evil reactionary forces, failing to do justice to history’s true complexity.


Undoubtedly Butterfield said some stupid things about the political situation in the s and made some misjudgements — but he was hardly alone in this, and, if one wants an example of a card-carrying Nazi sympathiser, one need look no further than Arthur Bryant.

Less a book than a lengthy og, The Whig Interpretation of History is a curious affair. Were historj all bad people? In addition, Butterfield considers how the historian should view the past from the perspective of the present, and the utility of the past for modern citizens. Though Whig historians are no longer in the ascendency, interpretatuon is a good antidote for reading history as if it were a story that leads to your particular view of the present.

Moral Judgements in History.

Herbert Butterfield

We, on the other hand, will not dream of wishing it away, but will rejoice in an interpretation of the past which has grown up with us, has grown up with the history itself, and has helped to make the history Nov 14, Allan Williams rated it really liked it Shelves: A quick read, and justifiably a classic. The “whig interpretation,” as Butterf A quick read, and justifiably a classic.

Butterfield decries the tendency of historians to interpret history as progressively cumulative in the present; or equally, to selectively use history as an ideological justification ths “my views”; or finally, to anachronistically read their ideologies into the past so histody its heroes were all fighting to produce the ideas they now possess. In his biography of G. Perhaps one is being too hard on Bentley here; given that this is to all intents and purposes an official biography, one suspects he is trying to buutterfield two horses at the same time when he writes about this relationship.


This is not to excuse their actions; indeed, we can say today that that was an evil thing. He looks for agency in history. The examination of these raises problems concerning the relations between historical research and what is known as general history; concerning the nature herbrrt a historical transition and of what might be called the historical process; and also concerning the limits of history as a study, and particularly the attempt of the whig writers to gain from it a finality that it cannot give.

He needed a new publication, and quickly.

Christianity, diplomacy and war. Whilst Butterfield’s work clearly has laudable strengths, his style is dated the frequent reference to a historian as male didn’t fit with my inner feminist and on a few occasions he begins to make broad statements of the past, which I suppose is inevitable but seems slightly hypocritical regarding his condemnation of the Whigs.

It suggests that the work of a historian is perennial – reborn with each new spring of human society. The Historical Process 4. Kenyon, The History Men 2nd ed.

Butterfield’s book is excellent, though. Historians have an incredible task set forth for them, one that requires them to look at history and make subjective statements about those events.

It weighs in at pages, however, Butterfield claimed that this constituted less than half of his original manuscript. Thanks for telling us about the problem.


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