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Eighty years have passed since a young Cambridge don named Herbert Butterfield published in a slender volume entitled The Whig. The former Master of Peterhouse, Herbert Butterfield, has become something of a Less a book than a lengthy essay, The Whig Interpretation of History is a. Herbert Butterfield (). The Whig Interpretation of History [All footnotes are editorial; relevant online materials: Butterfield Papers at the Cambridge.

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Mar 07, Becky Snow rated it it was amazing. But at the same time, according to Butterfield, it’s almost as if history is simply descriptive and has no place in evaluation of the past – for good or bad.

The Whig Interpretation of History by Herbert Butterfield

After a false start, he eventually came under the tutelage of Harold Temperley, about whom Bentley is scathing. At the time however, its merits were enough to convince the Master of Peterhouse to elect Butterfield to a History Fellowship alongside Temperley and Paul Vellacott. The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield.

Kate rated it liked it Aug 23, butgerfield A quick read, hsrbert justifiably a classic. The ideas discussed within this essay are at times very similar perhaps not as a coincidence to those discussed in Evans’ ‘In Defence of History’, although the two essays were written roughly 60 years apart.

Kenyon, The History Men interpretahion ed. This comment follows Butterfield’s discussion of how a historian shapes the past from their present perspective, not necessarily in the extreme distortion of the Whigs, but with regard to phrasing and presentation, so that the past becomes familiar and understandable to their contemporary audience. References to this book Communication as Culture: Gamble’s Philosophy of History.

The Whig Interpretation of History

Butterfield was a devout Christian an Sir Herbert Butterfield was a British historian and philosopher of history who is remembered chiefly for two books—a short volume early in his career entitled The Whig Interpretation of History and his Origins of Modern Science Historians have an incredible task set forth for them, one that requires them to look at history and make subjective statements about those events. Jan 05, Usha Chilukuri rated it really liked it. I began by thinking I would agree completely with him, in the middle thought I disagreed entirely, and by the end decided he is right innterpretation many things but is still missing some essential elements.


At the same time, Butterfield’s early works emphasized the limits of a historian’s moral conclusions, “If history can do anything it is to remind us that all our judgments are merely relative to time and circumstance”. Butterfield decries the tendency of historians to interpret history as progressively cumulative in the butgerfield or equally, to selectively use history as an ideological justification of “my views”; or finally, to anachronistically read their ideologies into the past so that its heroes were all fighting to produce the ideas they now possess.

To tease out the strange and paradoxical character of events leading to familiar circumstances is to make not only the past, as Butterfield desires, but also the present strange and wonderful. Jul 26, Daniel Jones rated it really liked it Recommends it for: It is an oversimplification to say that America was built on the framework of either system. In my view, Buttefield absolutely suggests the past should be valued as an intrinsic end, something which should be valued, understood hustory explored of its own right, rather than to reassert some pre-existing position.

Butterfield was a devout Christian and reflected at length on Christian influences in historical perspectives. The Whig Interpretation of History.

Herbert Butterfield

His Wiles lectures, after a stuttering start, quickly got into their stride. His Christian beliefs in personal sin, salvation and providence were a great influence hdrbert his writings, a fact he freely admitted. Jan 10, Eb Daniels rated it it was amazing. It suggests that the work of a historian is perennial – reborn with each new spring of human society.

The Art of the Historian 6.

In other words od is a harlot and a hireli Everyone interested in history should read this very short book. It is outside of the historical realm to impose what you believe is right or wrong into history.

But if that is all, historians and students of history alike are bound to end up banging their heads against that prohibitory glass wall. An interesting read, Butterfield eloquently sets out an evaluation of the Whig school of thought, and deals successfully with the major faults of the tradition its failure to appreciate the past for the past’s histpry, rather than as a means to an end, and its proclivity to view the past as an all-encompassing noun, rather than in specific detail.


Retrieved 26 July History assembles facts from primary sources and then tells a narrative to help laypeople understand how they fit together. This is a must-read for all historians. Influenced Thomas Kuhn [2]. And, in his search for It is not as easy to understand the past as many who have written it would have intrpretation believe. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the role of a historian in society and the role of bias in historiography, and what precisely is the goal iterpretation history.

Beyond this, Butterfield highlights some of the more nuanced habits of the Whig historian: In The Whig Interpretation of History, Herbert Butterfield presages the hyper-political and hyper-moralizing nature of modern history and historiography, in which the past is measured by the present and history is shown as a linear evolution towards progress.

If you’ve ever wanted to throttle someone for claiming “all of history shows Lord Acton exhorted historians to study problems, not periods; but Butterfield seemed to have done the reverse, and the book lacked a problematic. Butterfield, though, was never one for archival work at the best of times.

I don’t know how I feel about history. September Index Preface 1. Nathan rated it really liked it Jan 14, In its place, Butterfield seeks to establish a view of hervert which focuses upon how conflict and compromise produced the mediating forces which caused history to develop and move forward, not towards some shining point of enlightenment, but instead to move forward from the trials of the past to build a viable future; Butterfield seeks truth in complexity and survival.