Modernizing England's Past: English Historiography in the Age of Modernism, 1870-1970

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What came before 'postmodernism' in historical studies? By thinking through the assumptions, methods and cast of mind of English historians writing between about 1870 and 1970, this book reveals the intellectual world of the modernists and offers a full analysis of English historiography in this crucial period. Modernist historiography set itself the objective of going beyond the colourful narratives of 'whigs' and 'popularizers' in order to establish history as the queen of the humanities and as a rival to the sciences as a vehicle of knowledge. Professor Bentley does not follow those who deride modernism as 'positivist' or 'empiricist' but instead shows how it set in train brilliant new styles of investigation that transformed how historians understood the English past. But he shows how these strengths were eventually outweighed by inherent confusions and misapprehensions that threatened to kill the very subject that the modernists had intended to sustain.