By Keith C. Sewell (auth.)
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Additional info for Herbert Butterfield and the Interpretation of History
The historian ... deals with the tangible, the concrete, the particular; he is not greatly concerned with philosophy or abstract reasoning ... History ... is interested in the way in which ideals move men and give a turn to events rather than in the ultimate validity of the ideals themselves. 39 Therefore, the historian (as historian) should not theorise about life, but be an observer of the concrete immediacy of past life itself. ' Accordingly, historians correctly 'distrust' all'disembodied reasoning', and are rightly unhappy 'when they leave the concrete world and start reasoning in a general way'.
Moreover, Butterfield argued that there is a strong tendency for all historiography 'to become more whig in proportion as it becomes more abridged'. 54 Such a dictum could be taken as a repudiation of all abridgments. Indeed, he acknowledged that the fully researched historiography of the individual, the concrete and the particular, which he enjoined, seemed to be 'the kind of history that is incapable of abridgment': there is a sense in which history cannot be truly abridged ... and indeed all the difficulties of ...
For Butterfield it must rightly represent the historical process. What we have the right to demand of [the historian] ... is that he shall not change the meaning and purport of the historical story in the mere act of abridging it, that by the selection and organising of his facts there shall not be interpolated a theory, there shall not be interposed a new pattern upon events, particularly one that would never be feasible if all the story were told in all its detail. If the general impression that emerges from history is the impression of the complexity of the interactions which produced the modern world, then the abridgment may be as simple as it likes, but it must be an exposition in some form or another of complexity ...