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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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. It is not as easy to understand the past as many who inteprretation written it would have us believe. The historians who look at it from the Protestant, progressive, “19th Century gentleman” viewpoint are defined by Professor Butterfield as “the Whig historians.
He looks for agency in history. And, in his search wuig It is not as easy to understand the past as many who have written it would have us believe. And, in his search for origins and causes, he can easily select those facts that give support to his thesis and thus eliminate other facts equally important to the total picture.
Paperbackpages. Published September 17th by W. Buttetfield Company first published To herbeet what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Whig Interpretation of Historyplease sign up.
Be the first to ask a question about The Whig Interpretation of History. Lists with This Book. Apr 17, Rebecca rated it really liked it.
Herbert Butterfield – Wikipedia
An interesting read, Butterfield eloquently sets out an evaluation of the Whig school of thought, and deals successfully with the major faults of the tradition its failure to appreciate the past for the past’s sake, rather than as a means to an end, and butterfied proclivity to view the past as an all-encompassing noun, rather than in specific detail.
Beyond this, Butterfield highlights some of the more nuanced habits of the Whig historian: Butterfield therefore raises some crucial issues with regard to historiography and the study of history.
The ideas discussed within this essay are at times very similar perhaps not as a coincidence to those discussed in Evans’ ‘In Defence of History’, although the two essays were written roughly 60 years apart. Both historians raise the issue of historical bias, and the inevitable fact that a historian’s personal views and opinions will impact buttfrfield the subject of their work, and the style. The Whig approach therefore acts perhaps as an extreme symbol of this bias, and a warning of how history can be distorted when we fail to remain aware of our personal inclinations which may affect our work.
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.
tbe In my view, Buttefield absolutely suggests the past should be valued as an intrinsic end, something which should be valued, understood and explored of its own right, rather than to reassert some pre-existing position. However, Butterfield does not seem to contradict the idea that the past may offer some use, perhaps through exposing human nature or the power of chance?
These questions remind butterrield personally of a remark from Mary Beard during a lecture on her latest novel SPQR, as she commented that ‘We have nothing to learn from the past’.
From my perspective, whilst the past should not be viewed as a guidebook to ‘learn from’, and historians should not delve into the past in search of solutions to contemporary problems, the past undoubtedly does teach but not in the didactic sense of the word – whether on a personal level, with regard to family history, or on a universal level as a human being.
Butterfield also captures a very intriguing aspect of historical study in his comment that: This comment follows Butterfield’s discussion of how a historian shapes the past from their interpretarion perspective, not necessarily in the extreme bugterfield of the Whigs, but with regard to phrasing and presentation, so that the past becomes familiar and understandable herhert their contemporary audience.
As a result, Buttefield implies that as ages and social values change, so will our view of the past and consequently it will need to be reformulated. The Victorian era springs to my mind: It suggests that the work of a historian is perennial – reborn interprwtation each new herbsrt of human society.
Whilst Butterfield’s work clearly has laudable strengths, his style is dated the bistory 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.
Jun 30, Mike Horne rated it it was amazing. Everyone interested in history should read this very short book. Though Whig historians are no longer in the ascendency, this is a good antidote for reading history as if it were a story that leads to your particular view of the present.
I think everyone tends to read history as evidence of whatever they believe certainly I fall into this often. Great quote from the book. She is at the service of good causes and bad.
In other words she is a harlot and a hireli Everyone interested in history should read this very short book. In other words she is a harlot and a hireling, and for this reason she best serves those who suspect her most.
Jan 21, Douglas Wilson rated it it was ok Shelves: Butterfield is a superb writer, and is obviously learned. Reading this book was like watching someone put five coats of high gloss paint on a rotten board. Whih to the core. Put tje down as a whig. Jul 05, Miles Smith rated it liked it Shelves: Butterfield’s book is a seminal corrective of the bad habits of two generations of Anglo-American historians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
He butterfleld especially useful for early 21st Cent Americans because he pushed against the cartoonish and reductionistic tendency to render Protestantism as “liberal” or “modern” and Roman Catholicism as “conservative” or “traditional.
Feb 07, Aurora Dimitre rated it liked it Shelves: Jul 02, Heather rated interpetation liked it Shelves: It is easy to see why this little book is such an influential text for historians. Butterfueld 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.
I began by thinking I would agree completely with him, in the middle thought I disagreed entirely, and by the end decided he is right about many things but is historry It is easy to see why this little book is such an influential text for historians.
I began by thinking I would agree completely with him, in the middle thought I disagreed entirely, and by the end decided he is right about many things but is still missing some essential elements.
I believe there is a middle way he does not buttegfield here. In calling for historians to present the complexity of history rather than a simplified chain of consequences, Butterfield hits the mark. He shows great insight in interpretatiin out how the condensation of history leads naturally into generalization, which often tends toward sweeping, tenuous value judgments about history. I also appreciated his point that the past must be measured by its own merits and studied within its own context rather than in light of what it contributed to the present.
And he is right to point out that drawing simple, black and white moral judgments about past wgig is a risky business. However, his extreme aversion to drawing any moral lessons or even allowing any teleological purpose to the study of history seem to me not only questionable practice but impossible to accomplish.
But if that is all, historians and students of history alike are bound to end up banging their heads against that prohibitory glass wall. We are human; we crave meaning. I intedpretation accept complex, messy, unsettling meaning, but let me draw some meaning. He is right to decry the simplified, airbrushed, progressive Whiggish history. His alternative is unsatisfying, though, and I think the case can be made for a view of history that acknowledges and displays its complexity—not only of events but of people and hiistory yet dares to make moral judgments that can, interprehation, filter down to change us in the present.
Aug 28, Vicky P rated it it was amazing Shelves: This book was read for a class, and I was intrigued by it from almost the first page. It was honestly eye opening despite being almost a century old, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the study of history – it is iinterpretation incredibly short read, and This book was read for a class, and I was intrigued by it from almost the first page.
It uistory honestly eye opening despite being almost a century old, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the study of history – it is an incredibly short read, and though the prose is sometimes complicated, it is for the most part very engaging. Feb 12, Alan Cornett rated it it was amazing. A much needed–still, after all these years–call for humility and restraint for the historian. Sep 12, Justin Daniel rated it it was amazing Shelves: There are few books that I have read that have made huge impact on me, but I think Dr.
Butterfield saw an alarming trend in histories being written at that time. Historians have an incredible task set forth for them, one that requires them to lo There are few books that I have read that have made butferfield impact on me, but I think Dr.
Historians have an incredible task set forth for them, intterpretation that requires them to look at history and make subjective statements about those events. But we can radically depart from truthful history, a history that is a reliable, when we interpret it in relation to the present.
The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield | Reviews in History
One issue of constant consternation is the basis of our own country: It is an oversimplification to say that America was built on the framework of either system. History is complex and we have a tendency to want to make moral judgements on those in history.
Take another example in the Civil Rights Movement. While we can look back and say that the Civil Rights Movement was a good thing, we can easily run into trouble from a historical perspective when we throw the baby out with the bathwater in making overarching moral judgements on those who did not support the movement.
Were they all bad people? Of course not; there were some very good people who just had wrong ideas. History assembles facts from primary sources and then tells a narrative to help laypeople understand how they fit together. It is outside of the historical realm to impose what you believe is right or wrong into history. But this disregards the fact that, again, history is complex; it is not as simple as we might like it to be.
But we want to do this, because it proves our own point politically, religiously, or economically in our current world. We have imposed our own judgements and beliefs onto a society that existed hundreds of years ago.
This is akin to blatant dishonesty. The herebrt historian makes no attempt to get inside the minds of what a person thought and how he lived in order to understand the facts of history.
Rather, he jumps to weak conclusions to prove some belief that is irrelevant to what actually happened. This book has really yhe my own eyes to things that I see everyday in social media.
Take a very recent example in Michelle Obama.