Studying history by Jeremy Black; Donald M MacRaild

By Jeremy Black; Donald M MacRaild

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In the coming chapters, when the emergence of history as a distinct discipline and the importance of methodology and theory are considered, we will see that the observations of this chapter are central to our understanding of the past. 1 xe ter VARIETIES OF HISTORY (I): ‘TRADITIONAL HISTORY’ Un ive rsi ty o Modern historical scholarship emerged in the nineteenth century, although the history written during this period was of a very particular sort. In France, Germany and Britain, the principal mode of operation was empirical, by which is meant the scientific interrogation of sources.

Falling fertility in the later nineteenth century, for example, led to debates about migration being reopened. Whereas in the period 1820 to the 1870s British political economists had believed migration was a panacea for overcrowding, unemployment and population boom, the fall-off in fertility rates prompted a return to the eighteenth-century idea that migration was a drain on human resources because it prompted only the industrious and intelligent to leave. On the eve of the First World War, the fertility decline was tied into wider pessimism about Europe as a spent force, and has been linked by historians to increased militarism and aggression among European nations on the eve of the war.

History as an exemplary tale was generally accepted because politics and morality were not differen- 34 STUDYING HISTORY tiated, either on the individual or on the communal scale. As with other works of history of the period, Gibbon offered essentially a political account, and the notion of rulership, governance and political life as moral activities were such that history was seen in that light by Gibbon, other historians and their readers. Morality served to provide both an instructive story and an enlightening approach to the complexity of the past.

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