BY THE GENERAL EDITOR
In England, as in France and Germany, the main characteristic of the last twenty years, from the point of view of the student of history, has been that new material has been accumulating much faster than it can be assimilated or absorbed. The standard histories of the last generation need to be revised, or even to be put aside as obsolete, in the light of the new information that is coming in so rapidly and in such vast bulk. But the students and researchers of to-day have shown little enthusiasm as yet for the task of re-writing history on a large scale. We see issuing from the press hundreds of monographs, biographies, editions of old texts, selections from correspondence, or collections of statistics, mediaeval and modern. But the writers who (like the late Bishop Stubbs or Professor Samuel Gardiner) undertake to tell over again the history of a long period, with the aid of all the newly discovered material, are few indeed. It is comparatively easy to write a monograph on the life of an individual or a short episode of history. But the modern student, knowing well the mass of material that he has to collate, and dreading lest he may make a slip through overlooking some obscure or newly discovered source, dislikes to stir beyond the boundary of the subject, or the short period, on which he has made himself a specialist.
Meanwhile the general reading public continues to ask for standard histories, and discovers, only too often, that it can find nothing between school manuals at one end of the scale and minute monographs at the other. The series of which this volume forms a part is intended to do something towards meeting this demand. Historians will not sit down, as once they were wont, to write twenty-volume works in the style of Hume or Lingard, embracing a dozen centuries of annals. It is not to be desired that they should—the writer who is most satisfactory in dealing with Anglo-Saxon antiquities is not likely to be the one who will best discuss the antecedents of the Reformation, or the constitutional history of the Stuart period. But something can be done by judicious co-operation: it is not necessary that a genuine student should refuse to touch any subject that embraces an epoch longer than a score of years, nor need history be written as if it were an encyclopaedia, and cut up into small fragments dealt with by different hands.
It is hoped that the present series may strike the happy mean, by dividing up English History into periods that are neither too long to be dealt with by a single competent specialist, nor so short as to tempt the writer to indulge in that over-abundance of unimportant detail which repels the general reader. They are intended to give something more than a mere outline of our national annals, but they have little space for controversy or the discussion of sources, save in periods such as the dark age of the 5th and 6th centuries after Christ, where the criticism of authorities is absolutely necessary if we are to arrive at any sound conclusions as to the course of history. A number of maps are to be found at the end of each volume which, as it is hoped, will make it unnecessary for the reader to be continually referring to large historical atlases—tomes which (as we must confess with regret) are not to be discovered in every private library. Genealogies and chronological tables of kings are added where necessary.
- Zhingoora Books, February 2013
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