The Father of Modern History

Adrian Leak looks at the life of  Bishop William Stubbs, the last of the amateur historians and arguably the discipline’s first professional.

Historian and Bishop William Stubbs has been called the 'Father of Modern History'. His work on medieval chronicles and charters set a standard for the emerging school of English history in the 19th century and became the basic text for students in the succeeding generations. His prefaces to the 17 volumes he edited for the Rolls Series, as well as his three-volume Constitutional History of England (1874-8), introduced a style of historical writing that became an enduring model.

The hallmark of Stubbs' writing was his minute attention to the details of history; what he called the 'little pebbles of the concrete in which the foundations of the historic superstructure are laid'. He dug deep in the dust of the medieval past and, from that dry and apparently sterile material, he created for us a gallery of living people: kings, barons, merchants, soldiers, clerks. His aim was not simply to tell a good story – he despised 'picturesque' history – but to trace the great movements of the past to their origins in the individual lives of 'erring and straying men' and to define 'the contribution of the local communities of village, hundred, borough and shire to the political, educational and institutional growth of the English people'. Above all, he worked with remarkable affection for his material.

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The Father of Modern History