Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent

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In Cosmopolitan Islanders one of the world's leading historians asks why it is that so many prominent and influential British historians have devoted themselves to the study of the European continent. Books on the history of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and many other European countries, and of Europe more generally, have frequently reached the best-seller lists both in Britain and (in translation) in those European countries themselves. Yet the same is emphatically not true in reverse. Richard J. Evans traces the evolution of British interest in the history of Continental Europe from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century. He goes on to discuss why British historians who work on aspects of European history in the present day have chosen to do so and why this distinguished tradition is now under threat. Cosmopolitan Islanders ends with some reflections on what needs to be done to ensure its continuation in the future.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'Richard J. Evans: the magisterial chronicler of the Third Reich … was recently appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. Expanded from an inaugural lecture, his book … asks how an often insular culture managed to nurture two generations of world-ranking historians whose passions and positions made them 'a good deal more cosmopolitan' than most of their peers across the seas.' Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

'Evans makes a convincing case for his thesis of British historians of Europe as cosmopolitan islanders, discussing the work and influence of the present generation of practitioners …' A. W. Purdue, THE (Book of the Week)

'Richard Evans's new study of the historical profession in Britain serves as a timely reminder both of what Britain's historians have achieved over the past half-century, and what may be lost if their legacy is squandered.' Mark Mazower, The New Republic

'This book has all the advantages one expects of a text by Richard Evans: an interesting subject, clear prose, a broad sweep, decisive opinions, snap judgements - and thus the ability to provoke on a missive scale.' German Historical Institute London Bulletin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521199988
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 5/14/2009
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard J. Evans is Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College. A Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, Professor Evans has also taught at Birkbeck, University of London, where he was Vice-Master, and the University of East Anglia, where he was Professor of European History.
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Table of Contents

Preface; 1. Unequal exchanges; 2. The view across the Channel; 3. Open borders; 4. A sense of adventure; 5. The language problem; Appendix; Further reading.
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  • Posted October 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Fascinating study of British historians who wrote about Europe's countries

    Richard Evans, the Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, has written a fascinating book about why so many British historians have devoted themselves to the study of European countries' histories.

    In Chapter 1, he studies the writing of foreign history in the universities of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the USA, examining the work of 1471 historians. He sent a questionnaire to more than 60 British historians, asking them about their choice of subject.

    In Chapters 2 and 3 he looks at the evolution, since the Enlightenment, of British historians' interest in the history of Europe. In Chapter 4, he examines how and why so many devoted their careers to studying and writing about countries other than Britain. In Chapter 5, he asks how these historians learned the relevant language and how they see the future of European history-writing when language-learning here is in such decline.

    Entries for Modern Languages at A-level fell from 52,000 in 1996-7 to 31,100 in 2006-7. Universities have imported European historians to teach history courses here. Government pressure to complete PhDs in four years gives no time to learn a language or spend time abroad, reducing the scope of the PhDs.

    Evans' research shows how historians reflect imperial interests: the more imperialist the country, the more its historians study other countries, especially non-European countries.

    He also notes that from 1789 to about 1870, British historians fought the principles of the French revolution, in order to praise the established order in Britain. Then they turned to denouncing Germany, and later to denouncing the Soviet Union. All too often, these British historians had close links to the Foreign Office.

    Too many of the historians Evans cites made adolescent comments like, 'British history was boring'. He notes their 'patchy knowledge of British history' and how 'partial' their views were. For example, Sir Ian Kershaw, absurdly, writes of 'the relatively continuous, undramatic course of English/British history'. Some feebly argued that studying another country improved their understanding of their own.

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