Moving With the Times?

Approaching history through ideas – how people thought – is not the only method, but it is one that has stood the test of time.

’The Students‘, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1 January 1793. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain.

This year marks the tercentenary of George I’s foundation of the Regius Chairs of Modern (i.e. post-antique) History at Oxford and Cambridge. Undergraduate degree courses in the subject are, however, a much more recent innovation. Oxford established its School of Modern History in 1872. The Cambridge History Faculty is marking the 150th anniversary of the foundation of its Historical Tripos. A lecture on the history of the Tripos was delivered in the ornate Victorian building which until recently housed the university’s collection of antique statuary. The venue was reminiscent of a grand music hall, but some of the audience were dimly aware of lingering shades of now departed, mythical heroes.

The lecturer was Michael Bentley, the historian of modern historiography. He considered to what extent the Tripos, through its many transformations, has expressed and engendered a distinctive ‘Cambridge approach’ to the subject.

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