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Continuity, Stability and Prosperity: Eighteenth-Century British Historiography in Journal Literature in the 2010s

Tuesday 1 March 2022, 4.00PM to 4.30pm

Speaker(s): Trevor Burnard, Wilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull, Director of the Wilberforce Institute

Please note that this event has been CANCELLED.

My lockdown project, as an historian of the Atlantic World, has been reading 394 articles published 2012-2020 in early American and American revolutionary history. It includes a detour to work on the long eighteenth century in British historiography, in order to see what early American historians could gain from learning about this related but different historiography.

This historiography in the second decade of the twenty-first century is rich but unstartling – a historiography that in its essentials resembles very much the dynamic yet settled society of the eighteenth century. Its virtues lie in the diversity of subjects studied; the empirical heft of findings derived from assiduous archival research; and the imaginative ways in which scholars approach new topics and themes. Its weakness is its parochialism and lack of interest in the wider world and in not deviating analytically from the historical agenda made in the 1980s and 1990s.

It is a stable and content historiography for a stable and content country and century – that century being the eighteenth century, not the more contentious one we now inhabit. This unadventurous approach to the period diminishes its appeal to early Americanists. But lessons can still be learned. One lesson that emerges from this sample is that historians of Britain and America would profit from paying more attention to an imperial history which takes Britain as part of a wider world centrally into consideration.

Location: K/GO7 Seminar Room, King’s Manor