Sunday, September 23, 2012

Five top books on the English Revolution of 1688

Steven Pincus is professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of The Politics of the Public Sphere in Early Modern England, Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy, 1650-1668, and England’s Glorious Revolution: A Brief History with Documents.

His latest book, 1688: The First Modern Revolution, has won a number of prizes, including the 2010 Morris D. Forkosch Prize given by the American Historical Association.

With Sophie Roell at The Browser, Pincus discussed five top books on the English Revolution of 1688, including:
The Anglo-Dutch Moment
by Jonathan I Israel

The next book on the list, Jonathan Israel’s The Anglo-Dutch Moment was the crowning achievement of [the view that one really needs to place Britain in a much broader international context]. Israel’s collection of essays, and most importantly his own contributions to the volume, were extremely innovative and extremely important. But they seem to have had little effect. What was really exciting about Israel was his pushing for placing things in a European context, and indeed an extra-European context, though Israel doesn’t go quite that far in the book. But most British historians and people working in this field have in fact turned much more inward, and talked about the relations between England, Scotland and Ireland. That had the effect of moving the discussion away from Europe and the broader European issues that Pieter Geyl had asked for and Jonathan Israel demanded. I felt, in a sense, that it was a lost opportunity. It was that tradition, which had become a dead end, that I tried to follow up and develop more in my book.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Israel book? I’ve always been a huge fan of his, I have to confess.

He’s a wonderfully innovative scholar. There’s another really, really important contribution that Jonathan Israel made in The Anglo-Dutch Moment, and, again, something that has largely gone unnoticed. His argument was that there was a Dutch invasion and the Dutch transformed the English polity and then the British polity. It was a real revolution. There was revolutionary change, and it came from outside. Israel was the first person to break the consensus about the un-revolutionary nature of the English Revolution of 1688-9. Where I differ from Israel is that I draw on everything he says and say he’s absolutely right, but he’s underestimated the extent to which there was a radical tradition developing within England itself. The reason why the radical Whigs in England turned to William was precisely because they thought he was sympathetic with their ideas.

So you’re recommending the book largely for the contributions by Israel himself? Because there is also an essay in there saying the revolution was conservative.

Yes, there’s John Morrill’s essay on Trevelyan which says exactly that. But the Israel essays are a book almost in and of itself. They’re really incredibly innovative and well researched.
Read about the other books Pincus tagged at The Brower.

The Page 99 Test: 1688: The First Modern Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue