Skip to main content



Histoire de l'Europe, séance 5



British exeptionalism in European history – comments on a current debate in the UK


Richard VINEN (Kings College, London)

The paper will examine three separate, but related, matters. First, how British historians have contributed to debates about Britain’s role in the European Union – this is a question that has surfaced recently in discussion of the forthcoming referendum on British membership though it can be traced back to earlier periods and, notably, to the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
Second, how far British historians have identified a specifically British ‘roman national’ and, in particular, how far, they have seen British historical development as distinct from that of continental Europe. One should add here that, in recent years, some historians have come to see the idea of British exceptionalism as being in itself an object of study – and, in practice, studying an idea usually means adopting some position with regard to it.
Third, how British historiography has intersected with that of continental Europe and, for example, how far British historians have been influenced by the Annales school. I will argue that these three questions need to be considered together and that any study of how historians intervene in such debates now needs itself to be rooted in an understanding of how British historians (a category that includes, in the mid twentieth-century, large numbers of people born outside Britain and, in more recent years, many who are attached to universities outside Britain) have operated in earlier years.

Commentaire : Hagen SCHULZ-FORBERG (Univ Aarhus)