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New Left Review I/46, November-December 1967


Gareth Stedman Jones

The Pathology of English History

A recent survey in the Times Literary Supplement suggested that the writing of history in England was on the verge of a renaissance. This is only another way of saying that the progress of British historiography in the last 100 years provides a spectacular case of arrested intellectual development, and conceptual poverty. British historians have largely remained impervious to the solutions put forward by Marxism, psycho-analysis and classical sociology. Or else they have only glimpsed them through the blurred light of caricature and vulgarization. Thus the ingrained assumptions of British historical method have never been thoroughly shaken. The force of outside pressure has resulted in a few tactical concessions—the economic ‘factor’ has been conceded as important, real motives, it is admitted, are not always the same as those professed, and lately there have been hints of an arranged marriage between history and sociology. But the structure has remained intact. The result is as weird as if a Newtonian physicist were to come across Einstein, admit that relativity was probably a factor of some importance, and then attempt to carry on as before, under the impression that the occasional acknowledgement would absolve him from the necessity of further thought about it.

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