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Title: The language of character and the nature of events in the historical narratives of William Robertson
Author: Hargraves, Neil K.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1999
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This thesis explores the relationship between theoretical and narrative history in the works of the eighteenth century historian William Robertson. It argues that the excessive concentration upon Robertson as an exponent of 4-stage theory has obscured the essential interconnection that exists between theory and narrative in his histories. Robertson was a predominantly narrative historian, whose central interest lay in depicting public events and in illuminating individual characters as political actors. However, Robertson was sensitive to the sceptical and 'philosopher' critiques of conventional political narrative as lacking meaning, interest or a secure means of validating itself. He attempted therefore to use the theoretical resources available to him to restore meaning to public narrative, and especially to provide new contexts for the study of character and motivation. The project of the 'history of the human mind' was applied by Robertson to the revelation of political motives and action, and in the introductions to his histories he showed that not only political motivation but the nature of events themselves were subject to progressive change and refinement as society and knowledge expanded. Thus, narratives were no longer either universally applicable, or autonomous, in order to understand the meaning of the narrative and the true nature of characters depicted in them, it was necessary to invoke theoretical history as a 'framing device'. In essence, Robertson transformed the conventional historiographical and introduction into a study of the changing nature of events and character. This process can be seen clearly in the History of Reign Charles V, Robertson' most complete marriage of theory and narrative. In the View of the Progress of Society, Robertson described the movement of Europe from one pattern of action to another, and showed the emergence of a new type of character, characterised by a systematic control of his own motives and interests, and by an ability to perceive and manipulate those of others.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available