I write and review books about history. In the process I have developed a range of opinions on the subject; this site is a place where I can write some of them down.

I call myself a writer, not a historian. I would not dream of electing myself among such august company as the likes of Thucydides, Bede, von Ranke, Braudel, Namier, Sarkar and my own tutor and reluctant guru, Maurice Keen. The books I write are books of historical opinion, not history.

My overall purpose is to try to view history in a less contentious light than many writers (and all fanatics) see it.

There are themes that will recur, some of which may seem heretical to readers who hold strong opinions, and/or possess a strong sense of identity.

I do not belong to any ideological school. I have a degree in history, so I know what orthodox historical thinking is like. I am aware, therefore, how tempting it has been for many writers to see definite movements or directions within historical events, leading to either good or bad outcomes. All sorts of people from Hesiod and the early Christians to Karl Marx and al Qaeda have done this, but the results are not good history. I also know how easy it can be to use history to justify extreme opinions about the contemporary world. This is not helpful to the clear understanding of the past, and it clouds correct perceptions of the present.

History is a form of hindsight, but hindsight tends to make events and outcomes look inevitable, and they never are. Our ancestors could have made a different present for us, but in the end they made just one – this one. It is what we have now – the world we know – but it could have been otherwise, and the process was neither good nor bad. It is just what happened, a concatenation of literally millions of small events aggregated into one state of affairs that is itself always changing through the same processes. The insecurity we currently feel about the future is exactly what our ancestors felt too. We are as uncertain and baffled about the future as they were.

Clear and balanced historical understanding should be the aim. Those who treat history as a tool of propaganda should be challenged, no matter how modestly.

We’ll see how it goes…


 Posted by at 12:23 pm