I am going to make a serious accusation about the writing of history in recent years, especially by certain Oxford historians. But first I should talk about what history is and how it should be written. So, I want to consider three aspects before coming to the indictment I make in ‘Contemporary aberration’ at 4:
- personal reflections
- expert definitions
- a process consideration
- contemporary aberration
1. personal reflections on history
History provides the explanation for the present – it is the stage on which the drama of the present is being played out. History tells the story of the past, and so explains the constraints and the configurations we live with today.
History must be a chronological narrative, first and foremost. That chronological narrative can address themes or aspects of the past, social or political, for example. Or it can attempt to see the broad picture which embraces all these themes, endeavouring to give to each its due part in the scene portrayed, and to describe how those different parts relate one to another.
But history must remain chronological. To tamper with that primary principle in the practice of history may result in literary fiction or in political dogma, but it can hardly count as history. The chronological record of events and people provides the skeleton on which the flesh of the historian’s interpretation and explanation must be fixed. For the flesh to take the place of the bone structure and thereby redefine the form and size of the structure is akin to displacing the skeleton and assuming the body to be primarily mere flesh. As we all realise, flesh cannot provide the essential and primary solidity provided by bone structure. Chronology is the sine qua non of history writing.
History, of course, charts change. To me, the historian is like the cartographer. His job is to identify the features in the landscape of the past; to describe those various features; and to measure their distances and relationship to each other. The purpose must surely be to guide the person exploring the past into what is actually there – not what the writer of history thinks might be there, or should be there, or ought to be there.
History is also like a fictional story with a plot, with characters, ideas, setting and even moral lessons. But the storyline is not fiction; it is fact and appreciation of those facts concerning the development or evolution of events and ideas. It is the ‘story’ of reality with major and imposing personalities like a Napoleon or a Mao; with big and influential ideas, like Christianity and the Marxist variant of Materialism. These imposing personalities and ideas are constrained or given free rein by circumstances of geography, economy or culture. And all this has consequences for better or for worse for human beings in their daily lives.
We each of us have a personal history – we all pass through the years experiencing changes in our circumstances and being obliged to react or adapt. But we can only know the outcome of any particular episode once it has passed and become irretrievably set in the stone of past events – events which we can never again revisit or change. Yes, our recollection and perception may change, but the facts of what has happened can never change. They are done and they happened in a particular way and in no other, whatever we may wish otherwise !
The fact of an emerging course of events can mislead us to believe in a particular theme; it can look as though the story is inevitable. It is only inevitable because we now know the outcome; we now know what actually came after. That does not mean we can determine or accurately predict what is now going to happen before it actually comes to pass.
The historical narrative is one whose plot emerges only with the ages. It is not evident to us beforehand – only to God almighty – however important we may believe our opinion to be. I believe this is the fundamental misconception of those who impose their theory of the past upon the examination and narrative of the past to make that past accord with an ideology – eg Marxists. That may be literature or politics, but it is certainly not history. Indeed I regard the Marxist type approach as hi-jacking and counterfeiting the actual, ultimate plot of our development: that belongs exclusively to our Creator; only God can possibly know. We mere mortals can only stand in awe and watch the grand plan unfold – see my explanation of the Old Testament.
I believe that history is a primary and vitally necessary discipline to help us understand our world and what happens in it. History puts everything into the context of time and experience. It is invaluable in arriving at an informed judgement.
History necessarily takes for its subject matter all other subjects. Its role is also to see the relationships between them. It gives the portrayal of the past both proportion and perspective – though, of course, such proportion and perspective is the assessment and interpretation of fallible and predisposed human beings.
The subject matter of history is the set body of knowledge of the past. It is a set body of knowledge susceptible, of course, to extension by research and to revision by changing values and worldviews of the latest generation of historians. Which is why every generation of historians must be vigilant about being critically aware of its own assumptions and values. Failure to do so, can lead us all too easily to corrupt the record of the past by seeing it only via the prism of the present.
History of course clearly tells a story. It should be the story of what has happened, how and why. It is a story whose end we know because its body of knowledge stops with us in the present. It will of course encompass our present and indeed the future – eventually. But it will always be about what has happened. As such it must be definitive, although dangerously susceptible to contemporary perceptions and prejudice.
History concerns what people actually did – not what they might have done. It concerns how ideas are actually seen and how they actually impact our lives. It is not philosophical or political speculation. It is real; it concerns reality. It depicts human beings, their ideas, their mindset and actions within the context of reality.
I therefore regard history as vital to how we view and ascertain truth. Vital to how we approach our lives. I see it as the repository of human experience and wisdom. I regard it as a precious fund of knowledge and ideas tempered by reality, a precious fund which must be passed on intact and uncorrupted to future generations.
But these are my thoughts and impressions. How do others view history; how is history seen and how is history done ? How should it be done ?
2. expert definitions of history
Let’s take three authoritative sources to illustrate how history is defined. By authoritative I mean what we may all recognise as having the appropriate expertise to determine an objective or reliable view.
- a dictionary – the Concise Oxford English dictionary 12th edition published 2011
- an encyclopedia – the Encyclopedia Britannica accessed online summer 2022
- a historiographer – Norman Davies with reference to his explicit consideration and illustration of historiography in his book, “Europe – a history” published in paperback by Pimlico in 1997
The Concise Oxford English dictionary
The Oxford English dictionary is considered authoritative on the subject of the British version of the English language. It is published in various versions and sizes. I quote from the 2011 Centenary edition of the Concise Oxford English dictionary which says:
- the study of past events
- the past considered as a whole # the whole series of past events connected with someone or something ….
- a continuous, typically chronological, record of past events or trends
Origin: Middle English via Latin,
- from Greek historia [meaning] “narrative, history”
- from [Greek] histor [meaning] “learned, wise man”
I note that this centenary edition of the Concise Oxford English dictionary is itself a historical document which also includes a history by Elizabeth Knowles. Her history charts the development of the Concise dictionary through the changes introduced in the 12 editions of those 100 years. Knowles explains the changes introduced along with the contexts of those changes. She treats the content in chronological order. This simple but essential technique enables her to explain the development of the dictionary as she identifies the distinctive features of each new edition. Remarking the nature of the changes demonstrates the difference with what went before. Such comparison and contrast is the essential technique of the historian whose job is to record and explain the evolution of the story in question, in this case a dictionary. It is indeed consistent with the definition of the word, ‘history’ in the dictionary.
It is also pertinent to quote Angus Stevenson who wrote the Preface to the dictionary. His Preface strikes me as a historical appreciation written for a historic edition of the dictionary. Stevenson states:
“This latest edition of the ‘Concise’ offers a description of the language that is as
- up to date, and
- objective as possible,
using resources that the editors of the first edition would never have dreamed of.”
The Concise is a particular version of Oxford’s dictionary. It’s purpose is to provide a snapshot of the language and the meanings of words in current usage. It uses the full Oxford English Dictionary [OED] as its resource. The last full printed version of the OED which I have seen filled 20 volumes. That full version embraces the entire language, including words no longer in use. Its method is of especial interest. Its approach is inductive and historical: citing examples of usage in previous centuries, the OED charts the use of a word over time in order to appreciate the evolution of its meaning. It is via this inductive approach that current usage is ascertained and explained. Meaning emerges; it is not imposed. Long may that continue !
the Encyclopedia Britannica
Accessing 6th July 2022 online at https://www.britannica.com/topic/history
I found the following:
“history, the discipline that studies the chronological record of events (as affecting a nation or people), based on a critical examination of source materials and usually presenting an explanation of their causes”
This definition strikes me as concise – by which I mean brief and accurate. The Concise OED cited above defines concise as “giving information clearly and in few words“.
a historiography by Norman Davies
Norman Davies is a world class historian who deliberately advances a different historiography in his 1997 Pimlico edition of “Europe: a history” [originally published in 1996 by Oxford University Press]. At pages 603 and 605 in the chapter titled, ‘Lumen: Enlightenment and Absolutism’, Professor Davies explains:
“Rationalist history-writing came to the fore. History moved from the mere relation of events in chronicles or diaries, and from the advocacy of the ruling church or monarch, to become the science of causation and change ” [my italics]. In this connection he mentions Bayle’s 1702 Dictionnaire which Norman points out insisted on examining the evidence to test whether a person’s reputation was supported by the evidence, or not. [my italics]
Professor Davies identifies various 18th century writers whose work illustrates the different thematic approaches which writers of history can take in producing their narratives of the past:
- Vico’s Scienza nuova  introduced the theory of history moving in cycles
- Montesquieu’s Considerations  introduced the idea of environmental determinants
- Voltaire’s profiles of Charles XII and Louis XIV introduced the factors of chance and of great personalities
Having identified different thematic approaches, Professor Davies then makes 3 important observations about the predispositions and assumptions of these 18th century writers:
- all rejected the role of Providence as an explanation for past events
- all were “susceptible to the new fangled notion of progress”
- “historians increasingly applied the social, economic, and cultural concerns of their own day to the analysis of the past”
Regarding which, I would just like to comment in passing that these predispositions and assumptions are very much alive in historiography in recent years.
Professor Davies makes two more interesting comments by way of concluding his discussion of Enlightenment history writers. In the first he writes:
“On reflection, one has to doubt whether the sages of the Enlightenment were any more objective than the court and clerical historians whom they so mercilessly ridiculed.”
Nevertheless, Professor Davies also observes that
“In the process, both the scope and reputation of historiography was greatly increased.”
When it comes to the historiography of a subject like the conception of Europe, Professor Davies gives us some very practical and fundamental advice. He concludes his excellent Introduction on page 46 of the 1997 Pimlico edition with the words:
“In the end, therefore, intellectual definitions raise more questions than they answer. It is the same with European history as with a camel. The practical approach is not to try and define it, but to describe it.”
Please note we see again here that word “describe” in relation to history.
3. consideration of the historical process
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C when you sing you begin with do-re-mi
Now, I have just looked up the above on the internet and copied it as an excerpt from https://www.songlyrics.com › julie-andrews › do-re-mi-lyrics
I had originally written it down from memory as:
Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start; when we read with begin with ABC, when we sing we begin with Doe, Ray, Me
However, my instinct was to check it with an authoritative source and get it right before commiting myself publicly.
I am of course making a point here. My rehearsal from memory wasn’t too bad, and it does give the reader the general idea of the original.
But by checking myself with another source which is more likely to have the words recorded accurately, I was checking my facts to ensure that I was not leading the reader astray. In fact I cross referenced another source which confirmed the first authority I cited. To be totally sure, I then checked that those secondary sources were correct by going to the primary source itself, the Sound of Music movie. The accuracy of the secondary sources was confirmed and my personal recollection duly stands corrected.
So let’s now step back and consider aspects of the thought process at work – examine the metacognition and reflect on a model of how to view that thought process:
- FACT[s] – there is a song differentiated from all other songs by certain words associated with a particular tune – a song which was made famous by the film called ‘The Sound of Music’ and which starred Julie Andrews singing that song.
- RECOLLECTION – the fact of this song was retained in my memory and brought back to me as I thought about the word “beginning”. That word triggered the recollection of the song – not any song but this particular song.
- PERCEPTION – although I initially thought that my recollection of the song was accurate, I still wanted to check my perception by
- AUTHENTIFICATION – I looked for 2 secondary sources of information which I could be reasonably sure would retain the correct version of the song; they agreed together. I then checked them definitively and beyond all doubt by viewing the relevant scene in the original film. They were confirmed. Noting the differences with my own recollection, I then moved to
- CORRECTION of my perception, even though the difference was relatively minor and did not much affect what I was trying to say – at least on this occasion; experience has shown me that I can be wrong ! Therefore, I observe about myself as the investigator
- ATTITUDE – my attitude is decisive: am I willing to take correction, or to seek correction ? Do I have the humility of attitude to consider whether I am wrong in light of other factors ? If I had not checked my recollection thoroughly against secondary and primary sources, then I would be responsible for setting in motion a variant version of the actual original, however minor my variant on this occasion happens to be.
Now, I have just described a basic process of Reflection and Action. We all pass through various phases of thought and behaviour in everyday situations as we endeavour to handle them. The wiser, more skillful person will be aware of the process they are going through and will also be aware of the need to refuse to short-circuit it, for example by assuming that their recollection must necessarily be correct. On the occasion which I describe above, it does not matter much; but on another occasion the recollection/perception may prove seriously faulty and the consequences more serious.
There are perhaps 3 reasons I am willing to pass through the necessary steps to be sure of my ground. One is that I have a natural tendency to question and doubt. Another is that decades of living has shown me that I must review and adapt [mature]. A third is my personal philosophy of life. This fundamental reference system in my life enjoins me to heed two critically vital factors: humility and veracity. Please allow me to explain this last.
My faith teaches me to have due regard to others – neither to discount them, nor to mislead them. It teaches me to tell the truth at all times – thou shalt not bear false witness. Moreover I know that God sees all I think and do.
My faith is in Jesus Christ who lived out such regard for people, their welfare, their reputation; who only spoke truthfully and to the fundamental issue. Now truth is the very lifeblood of trust and of justice. Without truth human beings suffer suspicion and consequently live in distrust. Healthy relationships are undermined, and bad relations all too easily become the norm. Truth matters !
Now, Jesus Christ is not pie in the sky superstition; his example, teaching and continued presence in this world by the agency of the Holy Spirit is the surest foundation for all true knowledge and understanding.
That is why I advocate the restoration of the Christian faith as the central ethos for academia, especially for the University of Oxford whose historic motto just about survives, namely Dominus illuminatio mea. Indeed I regard the restoration of the Christian faith for the previously Christian, English speaking nations as vital.
But such ‘truth’ conflicts with today’s human-centred total TRUTH. This is in evidence everwhere, not least in the world of academic history, and with very serious, reprehensible results. Which brings me to the serious indictment I mentioned at the very beginning:
4. aberration by contemporary historians
All the foregoing is valid information in itself. But it also serves to preface what I want to say now. I believe that such transparency needs to be brought to the fore in the writing of history. Every writer has a view of the world, and that view influences what they say; indeed it can too easily dictate what they say regardless of any evidence or argument to the contrary.
The problem is not that we each have a view; I firmly believe that the truth can be ascertained and understood even so. The problem arises when that view imposes a particular interpretation on the truth.
Objective truth is being displaced by an ideological perception of our reality – and that ideological perception is being treated as truth. Denying the existence of actual truth, such adherents of relative truth yet maintain that their version of the truth is the definitive truth. Such an ideologically derived ‘truth’ is becoming the filter via which the reality of our situation is being assessed, both for its veracity and for its morality.
That is quite different from believing in objective truth. The search for the truth as an objective reality is certainly the aim of the natural sciences. How else can we properly engineer the world about us if we do not operate in accordance with the realities of the natural world. Try all we might, we will fail because we cannot impose our mental model on the world. Instead we must derive our model from the reality of the natural world. Yes, science has models; but Science treats those models as temporary frameworks via which to get to grips with reality. The search in the natural sciences is surely a search for that model which exactly reflects the world we live in. Science must surely be seeking to ascertain the most accurate model of perception by which to view that absolute physical truth.
If we are to arrive at a more perfect understanding of what actually exists in nature, we must be prepared to adapt our mental models accordingly.
Such a mindset demands and values evidence; it is prepared to adjust its thinking in accordance with what the evidence may suggest. Back of all is the assumption that objective truth does exist. Such is inductive thinking. Bottom up. And any deductive thinking in the natural sciences is necessarily derived from inductive thinking. Any hypothesis represents a potential, overarching principle which we may take as true, and therefore reliable as we attempt to build up a more exact and a more comprehensive picture of the real, physical world about us. But such a hypothesis must come from somewhere – it must arise because there is evidence to suggest its potential use.
In this context, that of natural sciences, the ability to adapt thinking and behaviour is essential. Natural science can go nowhere unless it takes this approach.
Or take the legal world. The judiciary exists to settle differences and wrongs. It considers evidence and rules with real consequences for real people.
But when it comes to history, why do some historians think otherwise about the narrative of past events which explains the constraints and contours of today’s events and issues?
The past has happened ! It is therefore a body of knowledge which is absolute – like the knowledge of the natural world which the natural scientist seeks to explore, explain and describe before the engineers of science can then go about manipluting that knowledge to human purposes – eg machines; eg vaccines.
The past is a settled body of knowledge, like that in the natural world. All that may change is our perception of that knowledge and/or the philosophy behind our research into establishing that body of knowledge more exactly and more comprehensively.
The problem I see in history today is that many historians want to manipulate the data of the past without having first understood what that information is telling them. They don’t want to read the evidence and then adapt their own appreciation accordingly. No, they want to adapt the evidence to conform to their ideas and/or preconceptions.They do this because they hold that their conception of the world is a priori and objectively correct.
I can cite 2 separate historical works by way of evidence for the assertion I am going to make – for my ‘hypothesis’. Both concern the work of university of Oxford historians. I cite them because they are incontrovertible evidence that there is a significant current of thought at work which these two experts reflect. I suspect that their work is representative of a broader issue at work today – indeed a problem which is dominant and prevalent. It is therefore absolutely essential to call it out for the sake of the truth, and for the sake of a proper understanding of what history should be, and how it must be practised if it is to achieve its purpose. I suggest that purpose must be
describing the past for what it actually was, not as we want it to be or how we may be tempted to see it
My concern is that many historians today are like smash and grab thieves. They raid the past for the precious gems which corroborate their thesis; they look only for jewellers shops and ignore every other type of retail outlet because the goods available in those other shops don’t provide the precious materials they demand to corroborate their thesis !
Historians are distorting the record quite deliberately because the record must be made to support their ideological thesis. Thus the likes of E.H. Carr try to make an ideological issue out of the fact that historians select the evidence they cite. Carr mentions Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon as a fact selected by historians who then ignore the fact that Joe Bloggs and his mates crossed the Rubicon everyday to go to work. But the entire point of talking about Caesar’s crossing is that he was a powerful and influential man with an army and a purpose which could not be reversed once he had crossed the Rubicon. There was no going back on the defiant challenge his crossing represented – and the outworking would change the course of events. Every day crossings by Joe Bloggs are a suitable field of research for economic and social history; and that can affect politics. But on the occasion of Caesar’s crossing it did not, and has no significance.
Historians must select what to write and what to leave out. They can hardly rehearse every scrap of information about everything. It would cease to be an assessment and it would become so unwieldy and as to be unreadable.
The question is therefore,
“What do they select, how and why ?”
Right now I am about to select two Oxford academics because their work provides incontrovertible evidence of my contention about historiography at Oxford in recent years. I do so because I strongly suspect that this evidence is indicative of a general trend. This should be addressed by further research in order to ascertain how far my contention is correct, and how far it is wrong.
My contention is this. Oxford historians have censored from the historical record the major impact which the Christian religion has had on our western civilisation. Any mention of Christianity is so low key as to provide no clue as to its true impact. The overwhelming importance of Christianity and Churches in influencing and framing western civilisation has been discounted to the extent that the true picture of our past has been seriously warped. The true picture has become a grotesque caricature which suits the ideological purposes of those making the portrayal. I see them as political caricaturists, not skilled portrait painters.
There are Oxford historians bequeathing a false picture of the past. They not only betray our heritage, they falsely encourage a positive image of a particular worldview. Repetition of this ‘error’ in turn feeds and reinforces a certain biased narrative.
I must add this, too. My contention comes not from any prior wish to attack or denigrate Oxford historians. Far from it. My contention arises from having accidently come across the problem in my general reading and research. My proposition or hypothesis is in itself empirically derived, and I submit well worth pursuing via further and far more extensive research.
I take my two suspect cases, in chronological order.
In 1993, Oxford University Press [OUP] published the text of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France [originally published in 1790] as one of its World’s Classics. It was reissued in 1999 in the Oxford World’s Classics series. The paperback copy which I have is the reissue, dated 2009.
To help students and the general reader to have some appreciation of the text, an Oxford historian was tasked with writing a 13 page introduction to the text. It is a very learned introduction citing all sorts of important information and providing many explanations.
However the reviewer, Leslie Mitchell – at that time a Fellow in Modern History at University College, Oxford – appears to have been so preoccupied with his multitude of reflections on the general history of the time that he has overlooked what I regard as the most important assertion made by Edmund Burke in his Reflections.
Now, I noticed the problem quite by chance because I have myself examined Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France in order to publish a more accessible version of it – one which identifies the salient factors in Edmund Burke’s thinking. And I freely acknowledge that I published my version to make a political as well as an educational point.
I discovered this problem, then, from a review of the evidence, and quite by chance. I did not start with the suspicion that Leslie Mitchell would fail to tell me something vital – quite the opposite ! I expect competence and integrity from Oxford dons …
Now, it is abundantly clear to me that a critically important theme in Edmund Burke’s argument – indeed I believe his paramount concern – is the vital importance of Christianity and Church.
Burke’s promotion of Crown, Aristocracy and established Church is explicit and central. The attack by French Revolutionaries upon these traditional institutions shocks Burke. Indeed Burke speaks extensively about the attack on the property and standing of the Roman Catholic Church in revolutionary France. One can almost feel his anguish.
Edmund Burke clearly sees the motivating spirit behind the revolutionary forces and thinking as directly hostile to Christianity – he uses the term the spirit of atheistical fanaticism – to be found at paragraph 251 of my edition of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.
The reference to such a spirit of atheism is not incidental; it is a vital clue to his central concern in the book. He makes this explicit when he discusses why the Church, the Crown and the Aristocracy are so important from paragraphs 149 to 265 of my edition. And we must note that he deliberately discusses the Church first, even before Monarchy and before Aristocracy. He says so explicitly in paragraph 149
Our church establishment .. is the first of our prejudices. I speak of it first. It is first and last and midst in our minds.
He talks about the consecration of all who administer the government of men. He opens paragraph 151 with the words:
The consecration of the state by a state religious establishment is necessary …
and he concludes that paragraph with the words:
All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author and Founder of society.
The manifest depth of offence felt by Edmund Burke concerning the French Revolution was not just that of a man who had personally experienced the menace of the popular mob during the Gordon riots 10 years previously. No, the depth of offence felt by Edmund Burke is the orchestrated revolution against the God ordained order of society, the God ordained paradigm and the God ordained mindset required of rulers.
This is central, but Leslie Mitchell D.Phil and FRHistS ignores it …
Such evidence surely serves as a grave indictment of Leslie Mitchell as a historian.
The second case I cite concerns another Oxford D.Phil in history: Jesse Norman similarly stands indicted by his own published work. I reference his 2014 biography titled, “Edmund Burke: the visionary who invented Modern politics”. Incidentally I’d take issue with the title too. If any one deserves the appellation “the visionary who invented modern politics” surely Thomas Paine has a better claim. And I say that as one who personally identifies himself with Edmund Burke’s politics, not Thomas Paine’s !
I’d venture to suggest that Jesse Norman’s title smacks of marketing hype triumphing over historical accuracy. After all, Edmund Burke was merely rehearsing a justification of what existed; Thomas Paine was laying out the ideology and the challenge to the existing Order; it is the paradigm articulated by Thomas Paine which reconfigured the political landscape into the form we have known since the French Revolution. Conversely, Edmund Burke’s precious Order of Church, Monarchy, and Aristocracy has manifestly receded before the prevailing tide of Enlightenment thought and values.
But to return to my original reason for citing Dr Jesse Norman alongside Dr Leslie Mitchell, I note the very same problem. The disregard of the critical importance of Christian religion in those days. Jesse Norman has committed the same grave error as Leslie Mitchell.
Now, of course, Jesse Norman is profiling Burke’s entire life, not just the final 7 or 8 years when he had published Reflections on the Revolution in France. [Please note my continuing attempts to cite what is representative about the comprehensive picture being painted.]
But the same question mark and concern applies. Jesse Norman examines the social and economic conditions of the 18th century by way of placing Edmund Burke and his political career into context. Highly commendable. But he excludes from his discussion of the 18th century one of the great phenomenon which characterised that century – namely the Evangelical Awakening. You do not have to read the entire biography to find support for my assertion. You can do a quick and crude check by simply researching the Index to the book. Let me save you the time. You will not find in that index the words, ‘Christianity’, ‘Evangelical’, ‘Methodism’ or ‘Methodist’.
Indeed the word ‘Church’ is listed just once as part of the title of the Church of England. But even then, the discussion is not about the Church of England but about a political crisis.
The vital and central importance of the Church of England in Edmund Burke’s mind as expressed in his book about the French Revolution in 1790 just does not figure on Jesse Norman’s radar …
The critical question arises therefore:
Why have these Oxford historians so perverted their portrayals of the past ?
Professor Norman Davies has already provided us with possible explanations. Davies flags up the fact that historians can be prone to looking at the past with a consciousness of the concerns of their own day. Now, Davies may also mean that constructively in that historians were no longer content to trace the record of great leaders and military battles, but wanted to widen the scope to examine other areas of society like social and economic conditions.
But when historians do this today, it does appear that they visit the past with the same sense of priorities we see present in the late 20th and early 21st century western world. In this our modern world, Christianity and the Church of England are so marginalised as to have next to no profile of any meaning to society at large. Neither are important. Indeed, in so far as people in the western world today have any idea of such matters, they probably believe them to be superstitious nonsense at best; at worst dangerous deceptions which mislead and exploit people.
Unconscious preoccupation with contemporary Orthodoxy is the most charitable explanation I can give. A much less charitable but noneless credible explanation is that some modern historians actually seek to eradicate the Christian religion from the historical record in order to eradicate it from the collective conscience today, and thereby delete all knowledge of it going forward.
There is evidence for this contention. Edmund Burke himself identifies this attitude in the course of his Reflections on the Revolution in France. He opens paragraph 186 [Catlin edition] with the words:
The literary cabal had some years ago formed something like a regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion.
It was evident to Edmund Burke that the mindset of Enlightenment thinkers was hostile to traditional religion.
That was written in 1790. Is there evidence of such hostility and censorship today ?
Writing for the August/September 2021 issue of the Critic magazine, the Cambridge educated historian David Starkey made this autobiographical comment:
But the religious element cannot be shunted aside so easily (though that was what a whole generation of historians, led by my own teacher, Sir Geoffrey Elton, tried to do)
The problem requires recognition. It requires serious attention and correction. History and historiography are at stake.
© Graham R. Catlin 2022