The Age of Prothero: British Historiography in the Long Fin de Siècle, 1870-1920 - The Prothero Lecture

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This paper revisits two generations of highly talented and significant historians who flourished in Britain between c. 1870 and 1920. George Prothero stood high among them and he, with his brother Roland, receives a good deal of attention at the centre of the argument here. But others stood still higher: Tout, Firth, Poole, Acton, the incomparable Maitland; and the purpose of the piece is to present a portrait of the British historical profession as a whole during a crucial period of its formation by using the Protheros’ experience as a platform from which to depart. The journey inevitably begins with that Prothero experience seen as a microcosm of greater tendencies; but it soon winds away toward Germany and Scotland and France; we pause to admire fresh perspectives yielded in what had become an age of edition and what would become an age of economic and social history. Of course the track leads also to Sarajevo and the implications of European war for a fledgling profession. All this itinerary lends an opportunity, therefore, to think through some of the themes and characteristics which made this period of development distinctive; but it also warns and guards against reducing these years to a time of ‘transition’, remarkable only for what would follow it. The personalities and achievements discussed here deserve better of us and recommend that we devote more energy to considering the features of the age of Prothero, for their own sake and in their own terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-193
JournalTransactions of the Royal Historical Society
Early online date5 Nov 2010
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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