Why History?

In 1976 I arrived from my country grammar school at the Historical shrine of Peterhouse. At the time, although the smallest of the colleges of Cambridge, it had the highest number of History dons.

The study of History was taken seriously and the effect on me was to be lifelong. The key people for me were Maurice Cowling and Brian Wormald. Sitting in front of these strange, intense men reading an undergraduate essay was profoundly challenging. Historical writing involved seeking to understand the reality behind why men acted in the way they did; and that reality was hugely complex and not to be confused with the descriptions of it in the work of historians. For those writing about the past always have an agenda. The identification and evaluation of that agenda is part of the reader’s challenge. The effort to abandon – or at least admit to – that agenda is part of the historian’s challenge.