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Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979)

The Whig Interpretation of History

Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (1931)
URL: <http://www.eliohs.unifi.it/testi/900/butterfield>
Html edition for ©Eliohs by Guido Abbattista - February 2002

Index | Preface | 1. Introduction | 2. The Underlying Assumption | 3. The Historical Process
4. History and Judgements of Value | 5. The Art of the Historian | 6. Moral Judgements in History


PREFACE

The following study deals with "the whig interpretation of history" in what I conceive to be the accepted meaning of the phrase. At least it covers all that is ordinarily understood by the words, though possibly it gives them also an extended sense. What is discussed is the tendency in many historians to write on the side of Protestants and Whigs, to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present. This whig version of the course of history is associated with certain methods of historical organization and inference – certain fallacies to which all history is liable, unless it be historical research. The examination of these raises problems concerning the relations between historical research and what is known as general history; concerning the nature of 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.

The subject is treated not as a problem in the philosophy of history, but rather as an aspect of the psychology of historians. Use has been made of words like conjuncture and contingency to describe what appear as such to the observer and to the historian. The present study does not concern itself with the philosophical description or analysis of these. And its theses would be unaffected by anything the philosopher could state to explain them or to explain them away.

H. B.

September 1931


Index | Preface | 1. Introduction | 2. The Underlying Assumption | 3. The Historical Process
4. History and Judgements of Value | 5. The Art of the Historian | 6. Moral Judgements in History