The Role of History

  • J. H. Plumb


The great Christian past, with its nineteenth-century variations — for they were no more than variations — on that old majestic theme of man’s fall and salvation, has collapsed. Rubble, broken arches, monuments crumbling to dust, roofs open to the sky litter this world of thought and loom forebodingly against the horizon. A strange collection of men walk amidst the debris, some full of lamentation, calling for urgent repairs, for an immediate restoration of the old house of the intellect; others climb on to a prominent broken pillar and in self-confident voices explain it all away; others are blind and stumble over the ruins not knowing what has happened. From none of this does humanity derive much comfort. Can this litter of a dead past be cleared away? Can its subtle distortions, or its complex interrelations with all we think and feel, be eliminated from our intellectual heritage. Is to do so desirable, even if possible? And if possible, can man face the future with hope and with resolution without a sense of the past? And if not, can a new past, truer than the old, be manu-factured to give him a like confidence? These problems, I venture to suggest, lie at the very heart of our society.


Moral Judgment Historical Study Fifteenth Century Fourth Century Historical Material 
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    The literature on the nature, let alone the philosophy, of history is vast, and growing. For a quick glance at some of the more notable pronouncements over the last hundred years, see The Varieties of History ed. Fritz Stern (New York, 1956)Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© J. H. Plumb 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. H. Plumb
    • 1
  1. 1.Christ’s CollegeCambridgeUK

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