J. W. Burrow

John Wyon Burrow (4 June 1935 – 3 November 2009) was an English historian. In 1954 he won a history scholarship at Christ's College, Cambridge. His published works include assessments of the Whig interpretation of history ('Whig history') and of historiography generally. His 1981 book, A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past, won the Wolfson History Prize. In that work he proposed that the historians William Stubbs, John Richard Green and Edward Augustus Freeman, writing in the 19c., were historical scholars with little or no experience of public affairs, with views of the present which were romantically historicised, and who were drawn to history by an antiquarian passion for the past and by a patriotic and populist impulse to identify the nation and its institutions as the collective subject of English history, making "the new historiography of early medieval times an extension, filling out and democratising, of older Whig notions of continuity. It was Stubbs who presented this most substantially; Green who made it popular and dramatic... It is in Freeman...of the three the most purely a narrative historian, that the strains are most apparent." In the same work Burrow remarked of another nineteenth century historian, James Anthony Froude, that he was a leading promoter of the imperialist excitement of the closing years of the century, but that in the mass of his work even empire took second place to religion. In another chapter, under the title The German inheritance: a people and its institutions, Burrow referred to the earlier historian Edward Gibbon, who had been writing in the reign of the Hanoverian monarch George III of the United Kingdom at the time of the American Revolutionary War. Burrow mentioned that, in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon, as if affecting a superiority to patriotic prejudice and at the same time affirming its existence in his own time, had written that the Saxons were, for an Englishman, the barbarians from whom he derives his name, his laws and perhaps his origin. Continue Reading »

The Limits of State Action
That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Intellectual History

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