Ian Hesketh, The Science of History in Victorian Britain (Pickering & Chatto, 2011)
New attitudes towards history in nineteenth-century Britain saw a rejection of romantic, literary techniques in favour of a professionalized, scientific methodology. The development of history as a scientific discipline was undertaken by several key historians of the Victorian period, influenced by German scientific history and British natural philosophy. This study examines parallels between the professionalization of both history and science at the time, which have previously been overlooked.
Hesketh challenges accepted notions of a single scientific approach to history. Instead, he draws on a variety of sources – monographs, lectures, correspondence – from eminent Victorian historians to uncover numerous competing discourses.
"[T]his colorful and conflicted history of the battle between the art of history and the science of history is a welcome addition to the growing literature on nineteenth-century science and culture. Hesketh's contribution is of interest not only to Victorian scholars and intellectual historians, but to historians of all stripes in demonstrating the concerns of our predecessors in establishing the boundaries of our discipline, concerns that are still of relevance today." --Alison Butler, Left History, 15:2 (2011), 124-6.
"Ian Hesketh's artfully conceived and highly readable book.... Hesketh's presentation of the professional [historians] ... shows them performing their boundary work in reviews and personal correspondence which he quotes frequently and tellingly, allowing these believers in history 'speaking for itself' to speak for themselves. ...[T]here's considerable irony in Hesketh's compact and elegant study...." --Christopher Kent, Canadian Journal of History 47:1 (2012), 144-6.
"The most compelling contribution Hesketh makes to our understanding of Victorian historians is to expose their empiricist posturing as a 'central myth': as he shows, personal relationships, religious disputes, racial theories, and gendered attitudes shaped the disciplinarians' historical and rhetorical methods just as profoundly as did objective scientific standards. ... Hesketh pays welcome attention to the intellectual and religious currents that shaped Victorian historians' lives and, by extension, their methods." --William Meier, Victorian Review 38:2 (2012), 134-5.
"...this book deserves much credit for making light of little-known and complex debates, and for demonstrating how great a variety of methodological standpoints is hidden behind the 'Whig' political label under which most of the historians it studies have usually been grouped." --Nathalie Richard, The British Journal for the History of Science 45: 1 (March 2012), 138-9.
"[Hesketh's] story is one shaped by personalities as well as by intellectual debate on the nature of history. The Science of History does an excellent job of giving us both the petty feuds and the principles behind them." --Jonathan Conlin, The Times Literary Supplement, 4 May 2012, p. 27.
"...well planned, well informed, and genuinely well written..."--Peter Mandler, Victorian Studies 55:2 (2013): 383-384.
"Overall, the book deepens our understanding of a topic tangentially explored by Thomas Heyck, Reba Soffer, and Christopher Parker ... [I]t is an excellent, careful account of the antiliterary, anti-Romantic perspectives of those well-known founders of academic history. Furthermore, the final chapter and epilogue together compellingly draw our attention to the fact that the long-term answer to the question, "Is history a science or an art?" is that the exponents of the extremes were all wrong because we have tacitly accepted within the profession that it is both." --Michael Carignan, Journal of British Studies 51:1 (2012), 232-233.
"The writings and debates discussed in Hesketh’s book are fascinating ones, both for understanding the context in which some major histories of England were produced in the 19th century and in raising perennial questions about the nature of historical writing." --Rebekah Higgitt, Teleskopos, 6 June 2012
"The book reveals that from the outset the science of history in the early Victorian period involved a fatal tension between science and art (literature). The author employs cutting-edge methods for analysing the history of historiography unavailable even a decade ago. As such, the book presents an excellent contribution to the history of British historiography after the 'linguistic turn.'"--Kenji Muraoka (Professor Emeritus of the University of Wakayama, Japan), Studies in Victorian Culture 9 (2011), 78–82.
"...Hesketh’s treatment of the background of disciplinary construction provides all sorts of illuminating insights of a sort not available in more traditional ‘conceptual history’ analyses... It is certainly useful to have a study of an important conceptual debate that goes into the political wings so thoroughly ..." --Richard Somerset, The British Society for Literature and Science