G. M. Trevelyan on history writing

Posted by Tory Historian Saturday, November 27, 2010 ,

Nobody could really call the last great Whig historian G. M. Trevelyan a Conservative almost by definition though many of his ideas would now be described as conservative with a small 'c'. Here is a somewhat hostile piece about Trevelyan and the Trevelyan family in general by John Vincent, which informs us, among other matters that the famed if outdated historian burned all his personal papers. Tory Historian recalls reading David Cannadine's biography and finding it most interesting as well as surprisingly sympathetic.

Trevelyan published his essay Clio, the Muse of History, in 1913 and in it he wrote:

The dispassionateness of the historian is a quality which it is easy to value too highly, and it should not be confused with the really indispensable qualities of accuracy and good faith.
A very useful piece of advice. Trevelyan never pretended to be dispassionate, a state of mind that cannot actually be reached. An historian who describes himself or herself as dispassionate runs the risk of misleading readers and students. However, it is unfortunately true that a number of Trevelyan's critics accused him of lack of good faith, a far worse crime in history writing.


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