Expository Historiography

  • Keith C. Sewell
Part of the Studies in Modern History book series (SMH)


In 1931 the whig interpretation of history was strongly rejected; in 1944 the whig political method was being fervently applauded. The determination of the relationship between these two standpoints is one of the central issues confronting the interpreter of Butterfield. In what respects was he a friend or a foe of whigs and whiggism? J. G. A. Pocock has described the reconciliation of the anti-progressivism of The Whig Interpretation with the celebration of the whig form of progressivism in The Englishman as ‘das Herbert Butterfieldproblem’.1 Attention will now be given to its resolution. Reviewers were understandably inclined to read The Englishman with The Whig Interpretation in mind. They were divided in their responses. G. Kitson Clark questioned Butterfield’s view of imperial history, and his use of the term ‘whig’, finding it at one stage too restricted to the Rockingham Whigs and at other times applying to ‘English common sense’ generally — a view with which others concurred, even though Butterfield had made clear that what he called the whig method in politics had been adopted by all parties in England.2 Others were either descriptive or focused on the implications of the book for the future. However, in expressing the opinion that Butterfield was now praising what he had previously denounced, G. H. Guttridge broached ‘das Herbert Butterfieldproblem’,3 which was soon discussed at length by A. J. Woolford in his essay ‘The Interpretation of History’.4 Woolford was convinced that:

Butterfield has changed his mind about the interpretation of history. He has not merely written a new book and in it presented a new point of view: he has deliberately and scornfully rejected his earlier thesis.5


Moral Judgement History Interpretation Past Situation Historical Thinking Moral Absolutism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Keith C. Sewell 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith C. Sewell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryDordt CollegeUSA

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