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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The Whig Interpretation of History

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 Butterfield seems to argue that we cannot judge historical events or figures because we have to understand them in their time, not our own.

Beyond this, Butterfield highlights some of the more nuanced habits of the Whig historian: I don’t know how I feel about history.

The Whig interpretation of history is now a general label applied to various historical interpretations. But we can radically depart from truthful history, a history that yistory a reliable, when we interpret it in relation to the present.

It brings to light overlooked assumptions and presents a sharp critique of historians who simplify history and adore it only for what it can give to the present.


Harry Balden rated it really liked it Dec 15, The Art of the Historian 6. Butterfield was a fellow at Cambridge from —79 and in the s, he was a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

And its theses would be unaffected by anything the philosopher could state to explain them or to explain them away. Nov 14, Allan Williams rated it really liked it Shelves: Nov 26, Mike rated it liked it. It weighs in at pages, however, Butterfield claimed that this constituted less than half of his original manuscript.

As a deeply religious Protestant, Butterfield was highly concerned with religious issues, but he did not believe that historians could uncover the hand of God in history. Lord Acton exhorted historians to study problems, not periods; but Butterfield seemed to have done the reverse, and the book lacked a problematic.

InButterfield was awarded the University Member’s Prize for English Essay, writing on the subject of English novelist Charles Dickens and the way in which the author straddled the fields of history and literature. Books by Herbert Butterfield. A much needed–still, after all these years–call for humility and restraint for the historian.

There have been reprints and revisions in,and There are no discussion topics on this book yet. This book reminded me of why I love history so much: The Whig historian uses history as a cudgel to advance interprefation own interests while beating down his opponents; the Whig seeks truth in simplicity and progress.


This is akin to blatant dishonesty. Carey No preview available – The whig interpretation came at exactly the crucial moment and, whatever it may have done to our history, it had a wonderful effect on English politics Back to 20 Ibid.

The “whig interpretation,” as Butterf A quick read, and justifiably a classic. To see what your buttegfield thought of this book, please sign up.

The Whig Interpretation of History – Herbert Butterfield – Google Books

Those who, perhaps in the misguided austerity of youth, wish to drive out that whig interpretation, that particular thesis which controls our abridgment of English history, are sweeping a room which humanly speaking cannot long remain empty. Sep 13, Jonathan rated it really liked it Shelves: Oct 14, Brenton rated it really liked it. Carr might say, surely this is an attempt to study the part without reference to the whole. At the same time Butterfield was writing on science, he was addressing the subject of religion.

We are human; we crave meaning. Less a book than a lengthy essay, The Whig Interpretation of History is a curious affair.