Chapter Nine

Cultural evidence and the cultural turn

Whereas the social theories discussed in the previous chapter focus on structure, change and agency, cultural theory attends to meaning and representation. Its influence is evident today in the very high profile enjoyed by cultural history. To some extent cultural history draws on the well-established field of art history (and also the history of film). But its approach to questions of meaning is much more strongly influenced by literary theory and by anthropology. The chapter ends with an assessment of the present state of history in the light of what has come to be called the cultural turn.

In present-day historical scholarship no concept is more frequently invoked than ‘culture’. It serves as an indicator not just of the content of a given study but the theoretical orientation taken by the author. What makes ‘culture’ so baffling to the novice is that its meaning takes quite varied forms. Thus we speak not only of visual culture, literary culture and material culture, but also the culture of violence and a culture of fear – the implication being that these very different areas are conceptually related in some way. To speak of ‘cultural history’ or ‘the cultural turn’ registers a significant shift in the priorities of historians, but it takes some persistence to fathom what kind of culture is being referred to. Thirty years ago the great cultural critic Raymond Williams remarked, ‘culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language’.1 That is no less true today.

Much of this complication arises from the fact that culture has one set of meanings in common parlance, and another in academic discourse. Still the most familiar referent of culture is those artistic and literary activities – sometimes referred to as ‘high’ culture – whose appreciation depends on education, taste, and the necessary leisure to develop that taste; a ‘cultured’ person might be expected to be widely read in ‘great’ literature, and regularly to frequent art galleries and concert halls. Culture in this sense has a long and absorbing history, going back to the earliest efforts to represent human experience or observation before writing had been invented. The academic study that has examined high culture most closely is art history. Cultural historians share many concerns with historians of art. While in theory covering all of visual culture, the history of art is largely concerned with art as a self-conscious elite experience, particularly with reference to painting and sculpture. More recently the assumption that culture is the preserve of an elite has been refuted in the name of popular culture. This is the second dimension of culture. The ordinary population may have been largely excluded from ‘high’ art, but other cultural forms reflected or constructed their outlook on the world – from the popular religious images of the Middle Ages, through the chapbooks of the seventeenth century, to the mass culture of the popular press and best-selling novels in the twentieth century. Unlike elite culture, the history of popular culture has not generated a separate academic discipline, and historians are much more to the fore in researching it.

Both the history of art and the history of popular culture are object-oriented: in each case the point of departure is a body of artefacts or texts which manifestly had a cultural purpose. In recent years, however, a much broader definition of culture has become prevalent in academia. In the usage of historians, culture has lost its association with specific cultural forms. It is understood not as ‘high’ or ‘low’ culture, but as the web of meanings that characterize a society and hold its members together. How, in any given society in the past, did people apprehend their daily experience? What were their attitudes to time and space, the natural world, pain and death, family relationships and religious observance? What were their common values? Peter Burke has defined culture as ‘a system of shared meanings, attitudes and values, and the symbolic forms (performances, artefacts) in which they are expressed or embodied’.2 Note that meanings and values come before the forms in which they were expressed. Cultural history in this sense amounts to nothing less than the reconstruction of the mental, emotional and conceptual world of the past.

Finally, historians today talk much of ‘the cultural turn’. By this they mean not just the arrival of a new sub-discipline but a reorientation in the priorities of historians. If culture is very broadly defined – along the lines of Burke’s ‘system of shared meanings’ – there is no limit to the scope of cultural history; it can be applied to political conflicts, the divide between rich and poor, the position of women, and so on. From this it is a short step to the insistence that culture is the most important dimension of historical experience. In some versions of the cultural turn it is the only dimension of the past that is deemed accessible to historical enquiry: culture has become, in the words of one critic, ‘the bottom line, the real historical reality’.3 This point of view has negative implications for other perspectives on the past. The challenge has been most keenly felt in social history – the dominant branch of study in the 1970s and 1980s, but now sometimes condemned as wedded to an outdated Marxism and a naïve methodology. The tension between social and cultural approaches has run through the historical profession for at least the past ten years. In this chapter I describe each of the above branches of cultural history, as well as evaluating the more imperial pretensions of the cultural turn.


Art history

All surviving material from the past is grist to the historian’s mill. If that precept holds, it must apply to visual no less than textual sources, in which case the historian should be as quick to draw conclusions from paintings, sculpture and material objects as from deeds and diaries. Yet that is not the impression one is likely to get from perusing the work of historians. Most historians do not make detailed analysis of the art of their chosen period; art is seldom treated as evidence in a systematic way; and illustrations in works of history are usually just that – included for their decorative appeal rather than for close reading. To understand why this is so we must take account of the practice of those most expert in visual sources – the art historians. The first art historians were connoisseurs: they prided themselves on their skill in dating works of art, identifying the artist, and grouping works of art into ‘styles’. Nowadays that is regarded as a narrow and outmoded approach. But the tradition of connoisseurship nevertheless underpins the claim that works of art are fundamentally different from written sources, because understanding them depends on very specific technical skills, and because they reflect different conventions of representation. Their language is veiled and multi-layered – in fact so elusive that only an exclusive expertise can do justice to them.

Two strands in art history take approaches that are rather more congenial to historians. First is an emphasis on the intellectual and literary content of paintings. In the 1930s a highly influential school of German art historians led by Erwin Panofsky developed the idea of ‘iconography’: the reading of art in relation to the intellectual world in which it was commissioned and created. This worked particularly well in the case of artists like those of the Italian Renaissance, who worked for highly accomplished patrons and delivered works with philosophical or mythological themes.4 More recently a group of socialist scholars has reacted sharply against the tendency in traditional art history to abstract works of art from the society that produced them. According to T.J. Clark, the ideological nexus binding artists to the dominant structures of society is crucial to understanding their work. Painting and sculpture are not intrinsically different from any other kind of work: they require certain conditions of production, and they feed off a certain kind of audience or consumer. The task of the art historian is to bring to light the links between a given work of art and the social structures and historical processes in which it was created. It follows that, as Clark puts it, ‘there can be no art history apart from other kinds of history’.5

Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968)

One of an extraordinary generation of gifted Jewish art historians who began their careers in Germany between the wars, but were obliged to flee the Nazis. Panofsky left for America. Others, notably Aby Warburg and Ernst Gombrich, settled in England, where they transformed the profession of art history.

Art history for historians

Where do historians fit into the world of art history? Some of the purists’ case must be conceded. The extended research sometimes required to elucidate a single painting is not likely to appeal to a historian for whom the work in question is part of a much bigger picture. Thus an intellectual historian of Neo-Platonist philosophy in the Renaissance could hardly be unaware of its impact on painters like Botticelli and Raphael who represented it in allegory; but engaging directly in research on the iconography of particularpaintings could probably only be pursued at the cost of the overall project. In such cases there is a demarcation of focus between the historian and the art historian.


An intellectual movement in Renaissance Italy that sought to revive the philosophy of Plato. It was much favoured among the ruling elites, especially in Florence. Neo-Platonism reflects the readiness of Renaissance thinkers to find inspiration outside the Christian revelation.


A story of representation to be understood symbolically rather than literally.

However that is only one kind of art, and one kind of interpretative strategy. What about art as direct representation? The art of the past depicts a vast range of everyday detail – clothing, implements, buildings – that are incidental to the artist’s purpose but included in the interests of verisimilitude or ‘background’. Such material should be seen as yet another instance of Marc Bloch’s ‘witnesses in spite of themselves’ (see above, p. 93). Among art history theorists it is not uncommon to dismiss this kind of evidence. According to Stephen Bann, the visual image proves nothing, ‘or whatever it does prove is too trivial to count as a component in historical analysis’.6 But historians like Peter Burke rightly question this point of view.7 Their argument is most convincing in the case of images of a documentary kind. Thus the appearance of the City of London – including Old St Paul’s, its proudest monument – before the Great Fire of 1666 is not a trivial matter, which is why historians pay close attention to the highly detailed topographical engravings made by Wenceslaus Hollar in the 1640s. Art provides equally valuable evidence for the design of weapons, furniture and table-ware. It is also worth bearing in mind that in recent years the objects themselves – where they have survived – have become a focus of study under the label ‘material culture’.8

Old St Paul’s Cathedral, London, c.1640, by Wenceslaus Hollar. Hollar was a gifted Czech engraver who provided an invaluable record of London before the Great Fire of 1666. This image is the more striking because the style of the old cathedral is utterly different from the one that Christopher Wren designed after the fire, and which survives to this day. (Bridgeman Art Library/Guildhall Library, City of London)

Another category of great interest to historians is art in the service of the state or its opponents. Our understanding of the Nazi regime has been enriched by the study of official propaganda which combined crude slogans with highly effective images; satirical attacks on the regime are no less useful for understanding the play of political forces in Germany during the 1930s. In England the political cartoon – highly critical and sometimes vitriolic – has a history extending back to the eighteenth century, and some of its leading exponents today acknowledge the influence of their distinguished predecessors. These examples suggest that for the historian ‘bad’ art is often more illuminating than great art – a view not shared by art historians, for whom aesthetic response counts much more.

Interpreting a medieval masterpiece

One further example illustrates the place of visual evidence in historical reconstruction. The most famous work of art produced in medieval England was probably the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The tapestry is 70 metres long and comprises a succession of embroidered panels in narrative sequence, not unlike a strip cartoon. It was probably made in Canterbury between 1077 and 1082, by English craftsmen working to a Norman agenda. Most people who view the Tapestry are intrigued by the vividness with which artefacts are represented, particularly the weapons and armour used at the battle of Hastings.

However, the importance of the Bayeux Tapestry does not lie only in its accumulation of evidential detail. It was also an ambitious attempt to establish an official version of events, and it was probably commissioned for this purpose by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, who had fought at Hastings. The early scenes, featuring William’s claim to be the rightful successor of Edward the Confessor, were politically of the utmost importance. The concluding depiction of William’s coronation in Westminster Abbey set the seal on the new king’s legitimacy. ‘One of the most powerful pieces of visual propaganda ever produced’ is the verdict of one authority.9 Interpreting its propaganda content is crucial, because the Tapestry ranks alongside two written chronicles as one of the very small number of primary sources for the Norman Conquest. Not surprisingly it has attracted intense scholarly effort from art historians, archaeologists and historians.

The centerpiece of the Bayeux Tapestry was the battle of Hastings, during which King Harold was killed. Here that moment is signalled by the Latin text ‘Rex Interfectus Est’. The entire tapestry is exhibited in the town of Bayeux (Normandy). (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

There are plenty of reasons, then, why historians should not hold the visual arts at arm’s length. It is true that they are the province of a highly specialized academic discipline. Yet art historians are often concerned to extract the last ounce of hidden meaning from the works they study, rather than dwell on their more accessible message. Historians are less inclined to see painting as the product of a coterie or cabal; they are more interested in meanings that were transparent to all, and which were repeated in different works and different media. Above all, historians insist – along with T.J. Clark – that art, like all other survivals of the past, cannot be understood apart from its historical context, which means placing it in its economic, social and cultural milieu. That procedure has the effect of anchoring works of art in specific time and place, rather than viewing them as symptomatic of the ‘spirit of the age’ (zeitgeist), as nineteenth-century scholars tended to do.


Popular culture: pre-literate and modern

At first glance the distinction between ‘high’ culture and popular culture may seem invidious. It carries more than a hint of snobbish elitism. It also loses sight of the capacity of culture to transcend social divisions and speak to all people. This is particularly true of Christian art. During the Renaissance and the Baroque, some of the greatest paintings were displayed in churches, where they were intended to intensify the spiritual experience of ordinary worshippers. However in both history and cultural studies ‘popular’ culture holds a recognized place, and for good reasons. Fine art may sometimes have reached out to a popular audience, but very seldom has that been its sole objective; such works were heavily imbued by the aesthetic and symbolic concerns of the artist or the patron, or both. Popular consumption, on the other hand, demands that the cultural product be reasonably transparent, and that it be extensively disseminated. That requirement became much easier to fulfil with the invention of printing in the fifteenth century. Printing held out the possibility, not just of spreading the printed word, but of reaching illiterate people by means of images. This is a vital corrective to the older notion that illiterate societies are ‘outside history’ in the sense of being beyond the reach of historical reconstruction.


The style that prevailed in the visual arts in Europe in the seventeenth century. It was strongly associated with the Catholic Church. It tended to emphasize the dramatic, the emotional and richly ornate.

Reformation Germany provides a striking example. At one level the conflict between the Catholic Church and the followers of Martin Luther was played out within an elite composed of learned theologians and their powerful lay patrons. But grass-roots support was also vital to the ambitions of the Reformers. As Luther himself said, images were ‘for the sake of children and the simple folk who are more easily moved to recall sacred history by pictures and images than through mere words or doctrines’. R.W. Scribner has documented the huge outpouring of cheap prints that lionized the reformers and satirized the Catholic Church in Germany. Most of them included text, but the real meat was provided by images, which were often more complex than the captions accompanying them. This was a new kind of propaganda war, but Scribner points out that the association between religion and visual imagery was not new: the laity was encouraged to understand their faith in this way, and late medieval religion was intensely visual in its devotional practices. Inevitably there are limitations to this kind of analysis. We cannot tell whether the visual material brought to light by Scribner reflected popular attitudes to religion, or whether it was just a crude attempt to brainwash the multitude. Nor can we easily tell whether the propaganda modified people’s beliefs and behaviour. Yet for an early modern society where literacy was skin-deep the inventory of Lutheran images is a precious resource.10

In modern societies with mass literacy, popular culture requires different emphases. The period between the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution is reckoned to have witnessed a progressive withdrawal of European elites from popular culture, making the distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ much sharper.11 By 1900 most Western societies were controlled by modernizing elites. Parliamentary institutions were part of this modernizing model, with a progressively higher proportion of the population entitled to vote. These were the circumstances in which literacy became nearly universal by the beginning of the twentieth century. The historian is presented with a mass of written evidence. Much of it bears on one of the key issues in the study of popular culture: how much of what the working class consumed was genuinely popular, and how much was an attempt by the political elite to impose its values? In late Victorian Britain the most widely read newspapers like the Daily Mail were owned by individual proprietors with pronounced political views, but circulation depended on addressing the concerns of the readership. These issues lie at the heart of the controversy about popular attitudes towards imperialism during the Scramble for Africa and the years leading up to the First World War. The Conservative Party – in power for most of the period from 1885 to 1905 – not only supported imperial expansion but believed that it would make the party much more appealing to ordinary voters. The Conservative press therefore promoted an aggressive flag-waving triumphalism known to its critics as ‘jingoism’. At the same time commercial advertisers often used colonial imagery to sell items of domestic consumption (like Bovril and Pears Soap), suggesting a popular identification with the Empire. But cultural forms over which working-class people exercised more control tell a different story. Music hall was at its zenith during this period. Away from the more expensive venues in London’s West End, music hall managements needed to be sensitive to the prejudices of their lower-class audience. Enthusiasm for the Empire was muted: there was support for the British soldier, but relative indifference towards the causes for which he was fighting. Another recurrent theme was the pain of saying good-bye to loved ones emigrating overseas. The Empire was woven into the fabric of British society, but the assumption that it was the object of wild popular enthusiasm needs to be treated with some care.12

Bovril was invented in the 1880s as a strengthening beef tea. Its advertisements were famous for linking the product with imperialism. Here British success in the Anglo-Boer War is attributed (in part) to the soldiers’ consumption of the product. (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)


Photography and film

For the twentieth century the study of popular culture is transformed by a new medium – photography and film. The photographic camera had been invented in the 1840s, but initially it was a rich person’s hobby, and its application was restricted by technical limitations. Photography became more widely accessible in the 1880s with the arrival of cheaper cameras and faster shutter speeds. Photo journalism rapidly spread, while much of the texture of daily life was recorded by a plethora of amateur photographers. By 1905 one in ten of the British population had use of a camera.

How have historians made use of this resource? On any broad definition, photography and film are ‘documents’: like other primary sources, they provide evidence of the time in which they were created. The difference is that they bring the past before our eyes, apparently short-circuiting the laborious and often unreliable process of working from written sources. Newly discovered film can make a big difference to our sense of ‘knowing’ the past. In the most dramatic coup of its kind, more than 800 reels of film were found in a disused basement in Blackburn in 1994. Shot between 1901 and 1907 by the partnership of Mitchell and Kenyon, they document the daily life of the town, specializing in crowd scenes such as football matches, temperance parades, and workers pouring through the factory gate. Most of the subjects were caught off guard; but others waved and smiled at the camera, knowing that later in the day they could pay to see themselves on screen (since Mitchell and Kenyon were running a thoroughly commercial operation). The films document the visual arrival of the working class – as both subject and audience.13

Documentary film became a recognized genre in the 1930s. Its impact on audiences was well understood, with the result that it was often loaded with a social or political message. In the United States the New Deal administration commissioned leading photographers to compile a visual record of ordinary people during the Depression. The results were compelling, but they were constrained by very specific guidelines. Smiling was discouraged; people in their Sunday best were told to change into everyday clothes; and only the ‘worthy’ poor were photographed.14 Moving film was subject to comparable pressures. Newsreels shown in cinemas were perhaps the main sources of current affairs for British audiences between the World Wars. Yet their potential to critically inform viewers was inhibited by the belief that any hint of political controversy would drive away the audience. The acute social problems of the Depression were not allowed to undermine the upbeat tone of the newsreels. Robert Rosenstone asks ‘What does the documentary document?’15 The answer is that it documents the priorities of the film-maker as much as the slice of life appearing on screen.

New Deal

The new directions pursued in the United States by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt who took office in 1933 at the height of the Depression. The central plank of the New Deal was direct intervention by the state to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Feature film offers much more than a documentary record. It is itself a cultural product, and a particularly powerful one. For three decades – from the invention of ‘talkies’ until the rise of television – feature films were the British public’s principal source of entertainment; in 1946 one third of the entire population went to the cinema at least once a week.16 The cultural importance of films was recognized at the time. Film-makers studiously avoided content that could be criticized as too sexual or too political. During the Second World War they were nudged in the direction of propaganda by the government. Much of the routine film output could be described as ‘escapist’, yet the terms in which the ‘good’ life (or the lost life) was characterized said much about popular values. As Ross McKibbin points out, audience taste in Britain showed a decided preference for American films, particularly those that emphasized the differences of American from British culture: these were summed up as ‘glamour’; but admiration also extended to the competitive individualism that dominated so many American films.17 After 1945 the prominence given to war films points to a national mood preoccupied by memories of the ‘good war’ and by a yearning for an outmoded British masculinity.18

In 1927 the avant-garde photographer László Moholy-Nagy said, ‘the illiteracy of the future will be ignorance of photography’.19 The intervening years have seen the balance between the textual and the visual drastically shifted in favour of the latter. Yet historians have still not taken the full measure of Moholy-Nagy’s statement. In the works of historians photographs are more often encountered as illustrations, rather than treated as cultural productions requiring critical analysis. Not many scholars are fully informed about the techniques of film-making before the age of digitization – especially those like montage and interpellation, which come between the viewer and the supposed realism of film. The most one can say is that photography and film are taken more seriously than they used to be, both as uniquely revealing sources and as significant features of popular culture.


Writing cultural history

As suggested above, ‘culture’ and ‘cultural history’ have come to mean something much broader and more ambitious than the study of visual sources. They stand for the whole spectrum of meaning in the life of society. Visual sources are not excluded, but they take their place alongside all the other forms of human behaviour that are endowed with meaning, which of course means most of them. One example will clarify what is involved in the shift to a cultural perspective. The history of the treatment of mental disorders is a well-established theme in social history; but only recently have historians tried to enter the mentality of the insane and of those who labelled them so – in recognition that the history of madness is, in Roy Porter’s words, ‘centrally about confrontations between alien thought worlds’.20 There is all the difference between writing about those mental confrontations and describing the institutions to which the insane were committed: the first is a cultural approach, the second is social history. Cultural history is a vast and absorbing field, embracing everything from formal belief through ritual and play to the unacknowledged logic of gesture and appearance.

Baldly stated, there is nothing new about this kind of cultural history. Curiosity about – and respect for – the cultural difference of the past is in keeping with the spirit of historicism. Ranke and his followers believed that technique and intuition would enable them to reach across the gulf of time and listen to the past on its own terms. But the emphasis today is rather different. For Ranke the interpretation of meaning was a means to an end – the recreation of human action and the destiny of nations; the sources were central because they yielded authenticated detail out of which that story could be told. Present-day scholars increasingly study meaning as an end in itself, in the belief that how people interpreted their world and represented their experience is a matter of intrinsic interest. This means that they depart from Ranke’s practice in another respect. Whereas he regarded textual meaning as the property of the individual (whose background and attitudes were accordingly central to the enquiry), it is the shared or collective meanings that historians value most today. For this purpose instinct and empathy are manifestly inadequate. Uncovering collective meanings calls for theoretical sophistication. Cultural history is a contentious field, and one of the reasons is that it is pursued through competing bodies of theory. Here I describe in turn the three that have proved most illuminating: psychology, literary theory, and anthropology.

The Annales school: a historical psychology?

The first historians who tried to investigate collective psychology in the past were those of the Annales school. The founders of Annales, especially Lucien Febvre, called for a history of mentalities. In Febvre’s view the worst kind of historical anachronism is psychological anachronism – the unthinking assumption that the mental framework with which people interpreted their experience in earlier periods was the same as our own. What, he asked, were the psychological implications of the differences between night and day and between winter and summer which were experienced much more harshly by medieval men and women than they are today? Febvre called for a ‘historical psychology’, developed by historians and psychologists working together.21 Instead of looking at formally articulated principles and ideologies, the history of mentalities is concerned with the emotional, the instinctive and the implicit – areas of thought that have often found no direct expression at all. Robert Mandrou has probably come closest to fulfilling Febvre’s programme. In his Introduction to Modern France, 1500–1640 (1961) he characterized the outlook of ordinary French people as ‘the mentality of the hunted’:22 helplessness in the face of a hostile environment and chronic under-nutrition produced a morbid hypersensitivity, in which people reacted to the least emotional shock by excessive displays of grief, pity or cruelty.

Freud and ‘psychohistory’

Historical psychology raises large theoretical issues, given that human psychology is such a heavily theorized area of study. Febvre himself was not specially drawn to theory, but since his day one of the key questions for historians in this area is how far they should make use of the findings of psychoanalysis. Freud claimed that, as a result of his clinical work with neurotic patients, he had arrived at a theory that placed our understanding of the human mind on an entirely new and more scientific footing. His theory turned on the concept of the unconscious – that part of the mind imprinted by the experience of traumas in infancy (weaning, toilet-training, Oedipal conflict, etc.) which determines the emotional response of the individual to the world in later life. For Freud and the many followers who modified or extended his theory, the primary use of psychoanalysis lay in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. But Freud himself believed that his theory also offered a key to the understanding of historical personalities, and in a famous essay onLeonardo da Vinci (written in 1910) he in effect carried out the first exercise in ‘psychohistory’. From the 1950s onwards this approach to biography enjoyed a considerable following, especially in the United States, where psychoanalysis was more widely accepted than in any other country. At its best psychohistory introduces a valuable element of psychological realism into historical biography, as in Bruce Mazlish’s controversial study of James Mill and John Stuart Mill – two lives in which the intellectual is otherwise particularly likely to obliterate the emotional.23 With the benefit of hindsight it is all too easy to bend the lives of people in the past to a satisfying shape that emphasizes rationality and steadiness of purpose. Psychohistory, by contrast, dwells on the complexity and inconsistency of human behaviour; in Peter Gay’s words, it depicts people as

buffeted by conflicts, ambivalent in their emotions, intent on reducing tensions by defensive stratagems, and for the most part dimly, or perhaps not at all, aware why they feel and act as they do.24

In this way the inner drives can be restored to historical figures, instead of confining their motives to the public sphere in which their careers were played out.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

Italian artist and engineer. His work was based upon close observation of the natural world; his notebooks are full of anatomical sketches as well as designs for works of engineering, although some of the most apparently far-seeing of these, such as his design for a helicopter, have been shown to be later forgeries.

James Mill (1773–1836)

British philosopher and follower of the utilitarian ideas of Jeremy Bentham, which stressed the need for modernizing social and administrative reform in order to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number. His 1817 History of British India criticized the ‘backwardness’ of native Indian culture. He was the father of John Stuart Mill.

John Stuart Mill (1806–73)

British philosopher. His 1859 work On Liberty argued the case for individual freedom within the growing hold of the state. Mill was a committed believer in female emancipation and in widening the parliamentary franchise into the working class.

The psychology of the collective

The insights of psychoanalysis are not confined to individual lives. Indeed from the perspective of the cultural historian, the main contribution of psychoanalysis has been to direct attention to cultural patterns of parenting, nurture and identification, and to the play of the unconscious in collective mentality. In The Protestant Temperament (1977), one of the most wide-ranging applications of a psychoanalytic perspective, Philip Greven has identified three patterns of child-rearing in colonial America: the ‘evangelical’ or authoritarian, the ‘moderate’ or authoritative, and the ‘genteel’ or affectionate. While these labels signal the directing influence of theology and social position, the impact of each pattern is traced through the characteristic psychic development of children raised in these ways. Greven describes the ensuing personalities or ‘temperaments’ by reference to attitudes towards the self: hostility in the case of the evangelicals, control in the case of the moderates, and indulgence in the case of the genteel. Within a common Freudian framework Greven’s approach makes allowance for the cultural diversity of seventeenth and eighteenth-century America without insisting that every American enacted one of the three models. The appeal of psychoanalytic categories is particularly strong in the case of those facets of the past that we consider irrational or pathological but which made compelling sense to those involved. Racism lends itself to this approach. Models of repression and projection have been used to excellent effect to explain white attitudes to other races during the heyday of colonial expansion – as for example in Jacksonian America.25

Jacksonian America

The period 1828–37, covering the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1767–1845). Jackson, a successful general from North Carolina, adopted a robust approach to politics. He was a firm believer in keeping the powers of the federal authorities to a minimum; paradoxically, he enforced his view by using his presidential right of veto far more than his predecessors had done. He engaged in a long and generally popular battle against the Bank of the United States, believing it to be an example of centralized tyranny.

Objections to psychohistory

Of all the technical and methodological innovations made in the past fifty years, psychohistory has attracted the most curiosity outside the profession, but it is also open to quite serious objections, for two principal reasons. First, there is the problem of evidence. Whereas the therapist seeks to recover the infantile experience of the patient through the analysis of dreams, verbal slips and other material produced by the subject, the historian has only the documents, which are likely to contain very little, if any, material of this kind and very few direct observations about the subject’s early infancy. Much personal material that we might consider highly relevant is completely unobtainable, yet this is the bricks and mortar without which a psychohistorical theory of personality cannot be devised. Second, there is no reason to assume that the propositions of psychoanalysis hold equally good for previous ages. Indeed, the assumption should rather be the reverse: Freud’s picture of emotional development is very culture-bound, rooted in the child-bearing practice and mental attitudes (especially towards sex) of late nineteenth-century middle-class urban society. The application of Freud’s insights (or those of any other contemporary school of psychoanalysis) to individuals living in any other period or society is anachronistic. For the structure of human personality over time is precisely what needs to be investigated, instead of being reduced to a formula. Even the notion of the self, which we (like Freud) may regard as a fundamental human attribute, was probably quite foreign to Western culture before the seventeenth or eighteenth century. As one particularly trenchant critic has put it, psychohistory can easily become a determinist form of ‘cultural parochialism’.26 Historians who draw on psychoanalytic theory have to be particularly careful to temper their interpretations with a respect for historical context.


Narrow-minded concern with one’s own immediate locality and concerns without regard to their wider context. ‘Parochial’ means literally ‘referring to a parish’.


Literary theory

The second body of theory that bears on cultural history is drawn from literary studies. This is the critical stance towards texts variously known as deconstruction or discourse theory. We saw in Chapter 7 how literary theorists, drawing on Saussure’s theory of the materiality and arbitrariness of language, have rejected the notion of the authentic authorial voice, and instead view the text as open to a multiplicity of ‘readings’ in which different audiences find different meanings. In Chapter 7 I dwelt on the exceedingly troubling implications that the indeterminacy of texts holds for the epistemological status of history. But it is important to recognize that, at a practical level, the new theories of the text open up the prospect of significant advances in the cultural reconstruction of the past. Traditionally historians regarded their primary sources as a point of access to events or states of mind – to what had an ‘objective’ or demonstrable existence beyond the text. Literary theory teaches historians to focus on the text itself, since its value lies less in any reflection of reality than in revealing the categories through which reality was perceived. From this perspective, primary sources are essentially cultural evidence – of rhetorical strategies, codes of representation, social metaphors and so on. Literary theory gives historians the confidence to move beyond the letter of the text (the traditional focus of their scholarship) and listen to a wider range of voices that goes well beyond the scope of the injunction to treat the sources as ‘witnesses in spite of themselves’. Close reading – or reading ‘against the grain’ – is even more time-consuming than the time-honoured procedures of historical method, and for this reason it tends to be applied to smaller bodies of source material of considerable textual richness.

Linguistic discourse and the language of politics

These ideas have had a marked impact on the history of political thought. For if language facilitates certain modes of thought while excluding others, and if there is a sense in which language determines consciousness (rather than the other way round, as common sense declares), then the political order must depend on linguistic as much as administrative structures: politics is constituted within a field of discourse, as well as within a particular territory or society. In modern polities there is usually a number of alternative and interlocking discourses jostling for ascendancy – expressing, for example, reverence for the state, class solidarity or ethnic exclusivity. A well-documented example is the English Revolution. Kevin Sharpe has argued that prior to 1642 Crown and Parliament still shared many political values, and their disputes were framed by a common respect for the law and for precedent. What was truly revolutionary about the Civil War was that those who rebelled against the king were led to act in ways which their language could not as yet represent. By the end of the seventeenth century, as a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–9, the relationship between king and people had been redefined in terms of rights and contract. According to this interpretation the shift in discourse was no less significant than the institutional and economic changes of the period.27 A comparable case has been made for the French Revolution. Legitimized under the banner of liberté, egalité, fraternité, the Revolution was among other things ‘the invention of a new form of discourse constituting new modes of political and social action’.28 Language, then, is power. In taking on board this central perception of discourse theory, historians are redefining their understanding of political thought. They are demonstrating how the members of a polity experience, reflect and act politically within the conceptual boundaries of particular discourses, and how these discourses are themselves subject to contestation, adaptation and sometimes total rupture.

liberté, egalité, fraternité

‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’, the slogan often inscribed on buildings, documents and other forms of officialdom during the French Revolution. It attempted to sum up the essential spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Man.


A state or other entity run by some form of civil government.

Discourse analysis also has much to contribute to the historical understanding of nationality – a category traditionally used by historians almost without reflection. It was pointed out in Chapter 1 how national identity is never ‘given’, but arises from specific historical circumstances which change over time. If nations are forever being constructed anew or ‘invented’, much will depend on the elaboration of cultural symbols and on highly selective renderings of the national past. The dissemination of this material to a mass audience is fundamental to nationalism in the modern world. For this reason in Imagined Communities (1983) – one of the most influential analyses of nationalism – Benedict Anderson places great weight on ‘print capitalism’ as a prerequisite for the growth of nationalism since the sixteenth century. More detailed work on the languages of patriotism shows how the content of particular nationalisms has changed over time. In England since the Reformation it has had a shifting relation to the monarchy, popular liberties and foreigners – to name just three indicators of political hue. Because ‘the nation’ is more imaginary than real, the metaphors in which it is expressed have great potency, and their popular meaning – be it democratic or authoritarian – becomes a battleground between rival conceptions of the political order.29


In England, the process of religious change in the early sixteenth century in which the English Church first renounced the authority of the papacy in favour of that of the monarch and then established a form of Protestantism known as Anglicanism.

The language-led approach to texts is also evident in the attention that some historians are now giving to the literary form – or genre – in which their sources are written. Here the argument is that our interpretation of the ostensible content of a text may need to be considerably modified in the light of the genre to which it belonged – and which conditioned the understanding of its readers. When Natalie Zemon Davis studied the letters of remission submitted to the French courts in the sixteenth century by supplicants seeking a royal pardon, she soon realized that they could not be regarded simply as direct personal statements. They were drawn up by notaries in an avowedly literary way which reflected several contemporary genres, including fictional ones, each with its own conventions. ‘I am after evidence of how sixteenth-century people told stories’, she writes,

… what they thought a good story was, how they accounted for motive, and how through narrative they made sense of the unexpected and built coherence into immediate experience.30

Davis calls her book Fiction in the Archives, not because she regards the letters of remission as fabrications, but to draw attention to the essentially literary issues that they pose. The question of whether the supplicants were guilty is here subordinated to questions of meaning and representation.

letters of remission

Official letters requesting a royal pardon or a reduction in the sentence imposed by a court.


Legal clerks with the authority to draw up legal documents.



But for recent historians the most fertile source of ideas in the area of collective mentality has been not textual theory but cultural anthropology. Although the relevance to history of the study of small-scale societies of the present day may not be readily apparent, there are several reasons why historians should be alert to the findings of anthropology. These reasons are most obvious in the case of those historians who are themselves specializing in some area of Third World history, but they apply also to their colleagues in more conventional fields. The findings of anthropology suggest something of the range of mentalities to be found among people who are acutely vulnerable to the vagaries of climate and disease, who lack ‘scientific’ control of their environment, and who are tied to their own localities – conditions that obtained in the West during most of the medieval and early modern periods. Certain long-lost features of our own society such as the blood feud or witchcraft accusations still persist in some parts of the world today; direct observation of the modern variant prompts a sounder grasp of the relevant questions to be asked about comparable features in our own past for which the direct evidence may be very sparse or uneven. The classic demonstration of this is Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971) which drew on the studies of Evans-Pritchard and other ethnographers to define a new agenda for the study of witchcraft in early modern England. For historians encountering a past society through the medium of documentary sources there is – or ought to be – the same sense of ‘culture shock’ that the modern field-worker experiences in a remote and ‘exotic’ community.

blood feud

A bitter conflict, often involving the families and friends of the protagonists and stretching over more than one generation.

The anthropology of mentality

Since Thomas’s path-breaking work the relevance of anthropology to the cultural historian has broadened to become one of method and theory, not just a source of suggestive analogies. The key issue is how anthropologists get to grips with the world-view of their subjects. Because they conduct their research by combining the roles of participant and observer, anthropologists can hardly fail to register the vastly different mental assumptions that operate in pre-literate, technologically simple societies. Indeed ‘mentality’ is at the heart of their specialist expertise, and the concept of ‘culture’ now most in vogue with historians is essentially an anthropological one. In fieldwork anthropologists pay special attention to symbolic behaviour – such as a naming ceremony or a rain-making ritual – partly because the sense of strangeness is then most challenging, and partly because symbol and ritual are seldom one-dimensional but express a complex range of cultural values; the seemingly bizarre and irrational tend to reflect a coherence of thought and behaviour which in the last resort is what holds society together. The influential American anthropologist Clifford Geertz referred to his own cultural readings of very densely textured, concrete facts as ‘thick description’: one episode – in the best-known case a Balinese cock-fight – may provide a window on an entire culture, provided we do not impose on it a coherence that makes sense in our terms.31 There is an interesting convergence with literary theory here: just as a text is open to many readings, so a ritual or symbol may yield a range of meanings. Geertz himself regarded culture as being like an assemblage of texts, and he explains the goal of cultural anthropology in terms of ‘the text analogy’.32

Since descriptions of ritual provide some of our best evidence for pre-literate societies of the past, it is not surprising that historians have welcomed the insights of cultural anthropology. Natalie Zemon Davis is one of many historians who acknowledge the influence of Geertz. She invokes the ‘text analogy’ in describing her work on sixteenth-century French society:

A journeyman’s initiation rite, a village festive organization, an informal gathering of women for a lying-in or of men and women for story-telling, or a street disturbance could be ‘read’ as fruitfully as a diary, a political tract, a sermon, or a body of laws.33

The mass in late medieval England, the carnival in early modern France and the rituals of monarchy are just some of the symbolic material that has attracted enquiry along these lines. In a bravura demonstration of the technique of ‘thick description’, Robert Darnton has analysed the trivial episode of a cat-killing by apprentice printers in Paris during the 1730s. By placing the reminiscences of one of the printers in the context of a varied range of contemporary cultural evidence, Darnton shows how the massacre of cats combined veiled elements of a witch-hunt, a workers’ revolt and a rape – which is why the apprentices found it such a hugely amusing way of letting off steam. ‘To get the joke in the case of something as unfunny as a ritual slaughter of cats is a first step towards “getting” the culture.’34 In this kind of history, carefully observed detail really counts, often several times over.



The limitations of anthropology

Darnton’s cat massacre demonstrates the excitement of this approach – but also its dangers. Whereas the anthropologist, as a participant-observer, is in a position to observe the ritual and generate additional contextual evidence, the historian has to accept the limits of the sources. The cat-killing is described in only one account, and a retrospective one at that. Darnton treats the cat-killing as a workers’ revolt which prefigured the French Revolution. But, as Raphael Samuel points out, the story could just as well have served an analysis of adolescent culture or a study of social attitudes towards animals; a single source lends itself all too readily to ‘symbolic overloading’.35 Cultural historians are for the most part thrown back on oblique and ambiguous evidence of what went on in the minds of ordinary people, and it is appropriate to recognize these limitations before wholeheartedly embracing the interpretative procedures of cultural anthropology or textual theory. In fact the value of the anthropological approach lies as much in its general orientation as in its handling of detail. It serves as a strong reminder that history is not just about trends and structures that can be observed from the outside, but also demands an informed respect for the culture of people in the past and a readiness to see the world through their eyes.


The impact of the cultural turn

Twenty years ago most social history, and much political history also, was confidently written in terms of coherent collectivities such as class and nation. It made sense to write about ‘the working class’ or ‘the French nation’ because these groups were grounded in a shared existence from which they derived a common, defining consciousness, extending beyond the life-span of the individuals who happened to constitute the group at any one time. This was most explicit in the case of the Marxists’ handling of class and class consciousness, but liberal scholarship was little different in its treatment of political parties, religious denominations and nations as historical actors spanning the generations. In both liberal and Marxist writing these social identities acquired an almost material reality, which served to drive forward ‘grand narratives’ of progress or revolutionary destiny. By the 1970s this social, material and progressive paradigm may not have taken over the mainstream, but it undoubtedly represented the cutting edge and was the focus of the most important historiographical debates.

That social paradigm has come under attack from two directions. First in the field were the Annales historians with their emphasis on collective mentalities. They had, from the beginning, asserted that no picture of the past could be complete without a reconstruction of its mental landscape. Braudel incorporated mentalities into his structural scheme by including them alongside geographical factors in his longue durée. By the 1980s the leading Annalistes were claiming more than this, declaring that mentality was the fundamental level of historical experience, and culture its principal expression. As Georges Duby has put it:

Men’s [sic] behaviour is shaped not so much by their real condition as by their usually untruthful image of that condition, by behavioural models which are cultural productions bearing only a partial resemblance to material realities.36

By the 1990s the main impetus for the attack on the social paradigm came from textual theory, with its assault on referential notions of representation. It proved to be a short step from rejecting authentic meaning in texts to fracturing accepted social identities, since what does identity depend on if not a shared language and shared symbols? Class, race and nation all lost their ‘hard’ objective character and became no more than unstable discourses. Social historians had appealed to ‘experience’, but the foundational status of experience was now questioned on the grounds that it had no existence prior to language.37 Culture itself was seen as a construction, rather than a reflection of reality. The Postmodernist attack on ‘grand narratives’ completed the job of demolition, by discrediting the persistence of active social identities over time. What is left is the study of representation – of how meanings are constructed, not what people in the past did. Cultural history is the principal beneficiary of this shift in historical thinking because the priority it gives to language makes questions of meaning and representation more important than anything else. The consequences can be unsettling. For example, the dominant theme of Italian history in the nineteenth century is usually taken to be the Risorgimento – the movement to unite Italy under Italian rule (finally achieved in 1870). It has long been studied as a series of political and military initiatives, dominated by the charismatic figure of Garibaldi and his mobilization of popular support in many parts of Italy. The Risorgimento is no less studied today, but in recent books the focus has shifted away from the political and military drama. Italian national feeling is now viewed as an essentially cultural phenomenon (as in opera and novels), and Garibaldi is reproached as the maker of his own legend – an ‘invented hero’ rather than the great general of popular renown. Italian unity becomes a chimera.38

The benefits and limitations of the cultural agenda

If taken to extremes, it is clear that the cultural turn would undermine much of the traditional agenda of historians. The issue is starkly posed when representation is proposed as the only legitimate field of historical study. An article by Patrick Joyce advocating just this is provocatively titled ‘The end of social history?’39 By this he means that the history of class and class relations in the mould of E.P. Thompson no longer has validity; in his own writing Joyce has, for example, analysed the subject of industrial work in cultural rather than economic terms, thus detaching it from labour history.40 For all its rhetorical skill, Joyce’s position has found little favour with historians. It amounts to an acceptance of the Postmodernist charge-sheet against history as usually practised. Most of the profession is little inclined to see the scope of their work pared down to the indeterminate dimensions of discourse, and this goes for the majority of cultural historians too. Taking representation seriously does not necessarily mean disparaging everything else. Nor does a cultural agenda signal a minimalist position on the issue of historical truth. Most historians working in the field acknowledge the positive ways in which textual theory has enriched the subject, without taking on board its destructive epistemology.

Yet the difference of emphasis remains. The historian of class conflict is doing something different from one who analyses industrial relations as a ritual bound by the conventions of a game; writing a traditional political history produces different results from a focus on the cultural instability of national identity; and so on. This difference is crucially one of theory. For the first group of historians, the subject of their research usually holds interest because of its place in a social narrative, which in turn is interpreted by reference to a dynamic theory of social change, often Marxist. The second group, on the other hand, is essentially interested in contextualizing – in making cultural connections within a single plane, as it were, often with scant attention to changes over time. Theories of the mind, of the text and of culture itself provide the conceptual underpinning for this work, and they too serve to enrich contextual understandings rather than illuminate historical process. Once again, as in Chapter 1, we see the tension in historical writing between the explanatory mode and the re-creative mode. Social theory continues the agenda set in the Enlightenment of interpreting the direction of human history; events and processes are deemed significant in terms of the place they hold in a more extended narrative. Cultural theory takes up the historicists’ emphasis on the inherent strangeness of the past, and the need for intellectual effort to interpret its meaning. This chapter and Chapter 8 have described two quite different kinds of history, and the conflict between them is very much of our time. But the tension they reflect is as old as the discipline itself.

Freud and psychoanalysis

The Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) developed the process of psychoanalysis, whereby patients were first relaxed and then encouraged to speak freely about their feelings and memories, often going far back to childhood. His 1900 work The Interpretation of Dreams argued that dreams bring out mental pain and trauma that is otherwise repressed in the mind. There was fierce controversy over his tracing of the development of sexual feelings and desires to early childhood, including the Oedipus complex, named after the figure in Greek mythology who unknowingly kills his father and marries his own mother, by which a young boy experiences a powerful desire to possess his mother and a fear that his father might retaliate by castrating him. Freud held that the mind is divided into three parts: the id, which represents inherited, innate instinct; the ego, which represents the individual’s sense of his or her own self within the world; and the super-ego, which reflects those wider social values and ideals that have been learned from parents or through schooling or experience. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung identified different types of personality, notably the introvert and the extrovert, and formulated the theory of the ‘collective subconscious’, those hidden attitudes and fears that are shared by the members of a particular cultural grouping.

Freud’s theories proved a major inspiration to artists and writers and were particularly popular in the United States, whereby the late twentieth century psychoanalysis had become a virtual industry. Although the basis for Freud’s theories has come under increasing attack in recent years, public interest in psychology and the working of the mind remains as strong as ever.

Further reading

Simon Gunn, History and Cultural Theory, Longman, 2006.

Sarah Barber & Corinna M. Peniston-Bird (eds), History Beyond the Text: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, Routledge, 2009.

Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing, Reaktion, 2001.

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, History Goes to the Movies: Studying History on Film, Routledge, 2007.

Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture, Routledge, 2009.

Peter Gay, Freud for Historians, Oxford University Press, 1985.

T.G. Ashplant, ‘Psychoanalysis in historical writing’, History Workshop Journal, XXVI, 1988.

Peter Burke, What Is Cultural History?, 2nd edn, Polity Press, 2008.

Miri Rubin, ‘What is cultural history now?’, in David Cannadine (ed.), What is History Now?, Palgrave, 2002.

Lynn Hunt (ed.), The New Cultural History, California University Press, 1989.

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Allen Lane, 1984.


  1  Raymond Williams, Keywords, Fontana 1983, p. 87.

  2  Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, Temple Smith, 1978, p. 270.

  3  Carolyn Steedman, ‘Culture, cultural studies and the historians’, in Lawrence Grossberg et al. (eds), Cultural Studies, Routledge, 1992, p. 617.

  4  Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology, Harper & Row, 1962, ch. 6.

  5  T.J. Clark, The Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, Thames & Hudson, 1973.

  6  Stephen Bann, Under the Sign, University of Michigan Press, 1994, p. 122.

  7  Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing, Reaktion, 2001.

  8  Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture, Routledge, 2009.

  9  Suzanne Lewis, The Rhetoric of Power in the Bayeux Tapestry, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. xiii.

10  R.W. Scribner, For the Sake of Simple Folk, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, 1995. The quotation from Luther is on p. 244.

11  Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe.

12  John MacKenzie (ed.), Propaganda and Empire, Manchester University Press, 1986; Bernard Porter, The Absent-Minded Imperialists, Oxford University Press, 2004.

13  Vanessa Toulmin et al. (eds), The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon: Edwardian Britain on Film, BFI, 2004.

14  Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock, Minnesota University Press, 1991 pp. 177–9.

15  Robert A. Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History, Longman, 2006, p. 70.

16  Ross McKibbin, Classes and Cultures in England, 1918–51, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 419.

17  Ibid., pp. 431–5.

18  John Ramsden, The Dam Busters, I.B. Tauris, 2002.

19  László Moholy-Nagy, quoted in Derak Sayer, ‘The photograph: the still image’, in Sarah Barber and Corinna M. Peniston-Bird (eds), History Beyond the Text: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources, Routledge, 2009, p. 49.

20  Roy Porter, Mind Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency, Athlone, 1987, p. x.

21  Lucien Febvre, ‘History and psychology’, 1938, reprinted in Peter Burke (ed.), A New Kind of History, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.

22  Robert Mandrou, Introduction to Modern France, 1500–1640: An Essay in Historical Psychology, Arnold, 1975 (French edition 1961), p. 26.

23  Bruce Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century, Hutchinson, 1975.

24  Peter Gay, Freud for Historians, Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 75.

25  Michael P. Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjection of the American Indian, Knopf, 1975.

26  David E. Stannard, Shrinking History: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 30.

27  Kevin Sharpe, Politics and Ideas in Early Stuart England, Frances Pinter, 1989, ch. 1.

28  Keith Baker, ‘On the problem of the ideological origins of the French Revolution’, in Dominick La Capra and Steven L. Kaplan (eds), Modern European Intellectual History: Reappraisals and New Perspectives, Cornell University Press, 1982, p. 204.

29  Raphael Samuel (ed.), Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of the British National Identity, 3 vols, Routledge, 1989.

30  Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives, Polity Press, 1987, p. 4.

31  Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, Hutchinson, 1975, ch. 1.

32  Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology, Fontana, 1983.

33  Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France, Duckworth, 1975, pp. xvi–xvii.

34  Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, Allen Lane, 1984, p. 262.

35  Raphael Samuel, ‘Reading the signs: II’, History Workshop Journal, XXX, 1992, pp. 235–8, 243.

36  Georges Duby, ‘Ideologies in social history’, in Jacques Le Goff and Pierre Nora (eds), Constructing the Past: Essays in Historical Methodology, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 151.

37  Joan Scott, ‘The evidence of experience’, Critical Inquiry, XVII, 1991, pp. 773–97.

38  See for example Lucy Riall, Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero, Yale University Press, 2007.

39  Patrick Joyce, ‘The end of social history?’, Social History, XX, 1995, pp. 73–91.

40  Patrick Joyce (ed.), The Historical Meaning of Work, Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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