‘BRITISH history’, or ‘the new British history’ – a field which the present writer is over-generously credited with inventing some twenty-five years ago – seems to have reached a point of takeoff. At least two symposia have appeared in which the method and practice of this approach are intensively considered, and there are monographs as well as multi-author volumes – though the latter still preponderate – in which it is developed and applied to a variety of questions and periods. Its methodology remains controversial, and it may be in its nature that this should continue to be the case; for, in positing that ‘the British isles’ or ‘the Atlantic archipelago’ are and have been inhabited by several peoples with several histories, it proposes to study these histories both as they have been shaped by interacting with one another, and as they appear when contextualised by one another. There must be tensions between such a history of interaction and the several ‘national’ histories that have come to claim autonomy, and it is probable that these tensions must be re-stated each time a ‘British history’ is to be presented – as is the case in the present paper.
(Received September 09 1999)
1 An earlier version of this essay was delivered as a paper to the conference in Belfast. It has been revised in the light of that conference, but contains little that was not heard there.