Whig History - Butterfield's Intervention

Butterfield's Intervention

When H. A. L. Fisher in 1928 gave the Raleigh Lecture on The Whig Historians, from Sir James Mackintosh to Sir George Trevelyan he implied that "Whig historian" was adequately taken as a political rather than a progressive or teleological label; this put the concept into play. P. B. M. Blaas has argued that Whig history itself had lost all vitality by 1914.

Butterfield's book on the 'Whig interpretation' marked the emergence of a negative concept in historiography under a convenient phrase, but was not isolated. Undermining 'whiggish' narratives was one aspect of the post-World War I re-evaluation of European history in general, and Butterfield's critique exemplified this trend. Intellectuals no longer believed the world was automatically getting better and better. Subsequent generations of academic historians have similarly rejected Whig history because of its presentist and teleological assumption that history is driving toward some sort of goal. According to Victor Feske, there is too much readiness to accept Butterfield's classic formulation from 1931 as definitive. A study by Keith Sewell, Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History, was published in 2005.

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