The Pursuit of History: Aims, methods and new directions in the study of history

The Pursuit of History: Aims, methods and new directions in the study of history

Language: English

Pages: 316

ISBN: 1138808083

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The Pursuit of History: Aims, methods and new directions in the study of history

Language: English

Pages: 316

ISBN: 1138808083

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This classic introduction to the study of history invites the reader to stand back and consider some of its most fundamental questions - what is the point of studying history? How do we know about the past? Does an objective historical truth exist and can we ever access it?

In answering these central questions, John Tosh argues that, despite the impression of fragmentation created by postmodernism in recent years, history is a coherent discipline which still bears the imprint of its nineteenth-century origins. Consistently clear-sighted, he provides a lively and compelling guide to a complex and sometimes controversial subject, while making his readers vividly aware of just how far our historical knowledge is conditioned by the character of the sources and the methods of the historians who work on them.

The sixth edition has been revised and updated with key new material including:

- a brand new chapter on public history

- sections on digitised sources and historical controversy

- discussion of topics including transnational history and the nature of the archive

- an expanded range of examples and case studies

- a comprehensive companion website providing valuable supporting material, study questions and a bank of primary sources.

Lucid and engaging, this edition retains all the user-friendly features that have helped to make this book a favourite with both students and lecturers, including marginal glosses, illustrations and suggestions for further reading. Along with its companion website, this is an essential guide to the theory and practice of history.

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experience of visiting heritage sites. The problem with nostalgia is that it is a very lopsided view of history. If the past is redesigned as a comfortable refuge, all its negative features must be removed. The past becomes better and simpler than the present. Thus nineteenth-century medievalism took little account of the brevity and squalor of life or the power of a malign spirit-world. Present-day nostalgia shows a comparable myopia. Even a simulation of the London Blitz will prompt regret at

coherence is lost. The confusion is compounded when we recognize that work in one area may be divided by theoretical approaches, and these same theories may be found in other areas (Marxism being an obvious example). In this chapter I pursue the metaphor of ‘field’ by taking three different cross-sections; each is composed of paired opposites. Together they capture something of the range of historical study, and they provide a grid on which any individual historical work can be placed. The first

columns of the great London dailies offer the best entry into the current state of establishment opinion – provided due allowance is made for the editorial bias of the paper in question. Second, newspapers provide a day-to-day record of events. During the nineteenth century this function began to be filled much more fully, particularly when the development of the electric telegraph in the 1850s enabled journalists in distant postings to file their copy home as soon as it was written. W.H. Russell

source to determine the nature of the enquiry. Recalling his first experience of the French Revolutionary archives, Richard Cobb describes the delights offered by a source-oriented approach: guillotiné Someone who was executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. journées Literally ‘days’. The term was applied to moments of particular drama during the French Revolution. M05_TOSH4129_05_SE_C05.indd 120 More and more I enjoyed the excitement of research and the acquisition of material,

but it is an essential means of deepening our understanding of the past. Always to work within the boundaries of a single society is to deprive oneself of a critical angle of vision. Local developments can be mistakenly treated as unique, and the significance of variations from the norm can be overlooked; as Elliott himself has remarked, ‘the besetting sin of the national historian is exceptionalism’.38 At the very least comparative history offers an important corrective to such blinkered

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