`The moloch of details'? cycles of criticism and the meaning of history now

Don MacRaild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In a recent review of Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory: Europe, 1648– 1815 (2007), Keith Thomas marvelled at the author’s range, given that ‘the volume of specialised writing has grown immeasurably since the 1950s’ and because ‘the subject matter of history has expanded and its younger practitioners are intensely specialised.’1 Such observations are not new. More than a century ago, William Milligan Sloane offered a similar sentiment, but more colourfully, when lamenting that history had been ‘immolated by the Moloch of details’.2 The specialization which Sloane inveighed against increased in the subsequent years, with the expansion of the university-based history and the growing emphasis upon specialist knowledge. At the same time, the discipline fractured into more and more sub-specialisms, thus amplifying the problems which Sloane encountered in the 1890s. As historians strengthened their dogged faith in the power of the sources and in their powers of scientific deduction, many of the works they produced became divorced from a general reading population.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-125
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Volume43
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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