Penelope J. Corfield

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All People are Living Histories: Which is Why History Matters - A Conversation-Piece for those who ask 'Why Study History?'

The title of this lecture is self-explanatory.

Please note that this text is also available on the Making History website of London University's Institute of Historical Research. See too Interview with Penelope Corfield by Danny Millum (Aug. 2008), which appears on the same Making History website.

History Viewed Long
This essay urges a return to including long-span (diachronic) History into the teaching syllabus at both secondary and tertiary level. History taught in fragments lacks its full meaning, if there is no long-term framework within which detailed studies can be located and debated.

Please note that this text is also available on the Making History website of London University's Institute of Historical Research. See too Interview with Penelope Corfield by Danny Millum (Aug. 2008), which appears on the same Making History website.
Teaching History's Big Pictures: Including Continuity as well as Change

This essay considers why there has been a flight from looking at History over the long term, and advocates new ways of teaching students about History's three dimensions, including deep continuities, gradual changes and revolutionary upheavals over time.

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How Historiology defines History

This is the text of a book review, which analyses four new books on Approaches to History as an academic subject - a field which is becoming known as 'Historiology' in contrast to the better-known term 'Historiography', which refers to the study of past historians' writings.

"We are all One in the Eyes of the Lord": Christopher Hill and the Historical Meanings of Radical Religion

This historiographical essay draws upon personal memories of discussions with the eminent Marxist historian Christopher Hill to reassesses his philosophy of history. His fundamental belief was in the equality of all humans, derived from his personal response to his Methodist upbringing. As a student at Oxford in the early 1930s, he transmuted his egalitarianism into a life-long commitment to Marxism and to studying History 'from below', as a means of understanding oppression and people's struggles for liberation. Hence his commitment was to a humanist and liberal rather than a Stalinist Marxism, while, over time, the specifically Marxist elements and terminology in his analysis notably faded.

This item can be paired with 1985 Interview with Christopher Hill by Penelope J. Corfield, available via London University's Institute of Historical Research. Also relevant for those interested in Historians and Marxism is the matching 1992 Interview with E.P. Thompson by Penelope J. Corfield, also available via London University's Institute of Historical Research.
History and the Challenge of Gender History

This essay provides a critical assessment of debates within and about gender history. The hype that claimed that women's history would subvert the discipline of history and introduce a new 'herstory' was wildly overdone. But women's history has indeed enriched the subject and has, importantly, mutated into a broader gender history, which offers scope for the history of men/masculinity as well as of women/femininity. It is an inclusive development which is fostering a holistic history. And these innovations can be welcomed, without entailing an intellectual appeal to a supposedly warm 'female' intuition, or depending upon a postmodernist onslaught upon an allegedly dying 'male' rationality.

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Dorothy Thompson's Contribution to the Thompsonian Project

Dorothy Thompson and her husband E.P. Thompson were celebrated as historians on the political Left. They shared a joint intellectual project to write an updated Marxist history which incorporated individual experiences and avoided abstract theory. This short essay assesses Dorothy Thompson's contribution to this life-long Thompsonian project, with its pitfalls as well as possibilities.


Penelope Corfield here expands her critique of the traditional stages of western history, including the late addition of Postmodernity. She finds all these concepts so fuzzy and overladen with contradictory meanings that they should be abandoned. A more effective vocabulary is needed to evoke the overlapping of historical continuities and change. And the post-'Post' moment seems like a good time to start.

Climate Reds: Responding to Climate Change with Relative Optimism

Talking of 'big history', nothing comes as big as the predicted problems consequent upon climate change. This essay argues, against the ultra-pessimists, that the history of eventual international cooperation on a range of tricky issues gives reasonable grounds for optimism that humans will rally to take measures in response. But solutions will only work if individuals as well as governments play their part.
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Historians and the Return to the Diachronic

This essay, first published in 2010, reconsiders an important theme for historical studies. In-depth analysis of short periods of micro-history is surely valuable. Yet micro-history means little without understanding the long-term frameworks of macro-history. Old models of inevitable progress or eternal class struggles are no longer convincing. Nor can theories of unremitting chaos or pure accident explain linked developments through time. For a new approach, Read more:
Cities in time

This essay, published as the final chapter in Peter Clark (ed.), Oxford Handbook to Cities in World History (2013), assesses the role that urban development has played in major theories of world history, and analyses the elements of continuity, slow change and dramatic upheaval that are contributing to global urbanisation - one of humanity's greatest achievements, 'pulsing with creative organisation and disorganisation - and alive'. Read more:
History and the Temporal Turn: Returning to Causes, Effects and Diachronic Trends

This essay welcomes the current return to long-term history, known as the Temporal Turn. Various implications follow. Historical periodisation is being reconsidered, to jettison outdated and rigid divisions. And attention is rightly returning to long-term causes, effects, and trends - not forgetting deep continuities. Read more:

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Time and the Historians in the Age of Relativity

This essay examines the twists and turns of twentieth-century attitudes to long-term history, after Einstein's dethronement of absolute Time. Micro-history and in-depth analysis became prominent. In the 1990s, there was even a brief 'postmodernist' moment of anti-history. But long-term studies are now back on the map. Adieu to Time nihilism and atemporality. Back to history in an integral Space-Time (or Time-Space). Read more: