David kynaston

A dutiful exercise carried out in a rush

Like department stores, empires and encyclopaedias, the multi-volume narrative national history is an invention of the later 18th century. It reaches its apogee, promising to bring everything important within a single enclosure, in the 19th and early 20th century. After that, ambitious examples appear to be fighting against a general lack of enthusiasm. Most of these works are little read now, from David Hume’s 1750s The History of England all the way through to Winston Churchill’s idiosyncratic A History of the English-Speaking Peoples in the 1950s. The grand sweep has a tendency to define the significant in advance. Many of these histories can explain a sequence of legislation, such as