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The Science of History in Victorian Britain

Making the Past Speak


Science and Culture in the Nineteenth Century: 12

Ian Hesketh

240pp: 234x156mm: 2011
HB 978 1 84893 126 8: £60/$99

eBook: £24 (incl. VAT)

'does an excellent job of giving us both the petty feuds and the principles behind them.'

Times Literary Supplement


  • Description
  • Contents
  • Reviews

New attitudes towards history in nineteenth-century Britain saw a rejection of romantic, literary techniques in favour of a professionalized, scientific methodology. The development of history as a scientific discipline was undertaken by several key historians of the Victorian period, influenced by German scientific history and British natural philosophy. This study examines parallels between the professionalization of both history and science at the time, which have previously been overlooked.

Hesketh challenges accepted notions of a single scientific approach to history. Instead, he draws on a variety of sources – monographs, lectures, correspondence – from eminent Victorian historians to uncover numerous competing discourses.

Introduction: That Never-Ending Battle
1 The Enlarging Horizon: Henry Thomas Buckle's Science of History
2 The Sciences of History
3 Controversial Boys
4 Discipline and Disease; or, the Boundary Work of Scientific History
5 History from Nowhere
6 Broad Shadows and Little Histories
7 The Death of the Historian
Epilogue: Froude's Revenge
  • 'does an excellent job of giving us both the petty feuds and the principles behind them.'

    Times Literary Supplement

  • ‘It is certainly useful to have a study of an important conceptual debate that goes into the political wings so thoroughly’

    British Society for Literature and Science

  • 'an excellent, careful account of the antiliterary, anti-Romantic perspectives of those well-known founders of academic history'

    Journal of British Studies

  • 'well planned, well informed and genuinely well written.'

    Victorian Studies

  • 'this colorful and conflicted history of the battle between the art of history and the science of history is a welcome addition to the growing literature on nineteenth-century science and culture.'

    Left History

  • 'this book deserves much credit for making light of little-known and complex debates, and for demonstrating how great a variety of methodological standpoints is hidden behind the ‘Whig’ political label under which most of the historians it studies have usually been grouped.'

    British Journal for the History of Science

  • 'artfully conceived and highly readable'

    Canadian Journal of History

  • 'Hesketh pays welcome attention to the intellectual and religious currents that shaped Victorian historians' lives and, by extension, their methods.'

    Victorian Review

  • ' [Hesketh's] research is exhaustive and his use of text, from both the main characters and their observers, beautifully illustrates the thought behind the arguments ... [an] excellent volume'

    Mad, bad and desperate - crime and insanity in Victorian England

ISBNs: 9781848931268 978-1-84893-126-8 ISBNs: 9781848931275 978-1-84893-127-5 ISBNs: 9781781442272 978-1-78144-227-2

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