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The Second Century of Academic History

An inaugural lecture at Newcastle University, delivered in spring 1996.

Thank you for those generous words, Vice-Chancellor. You will understand that in these perilous times, when universities on every side are threatened with bankruptcy, I listened to them with even more care than would be natural in the circumstances. I appreciate the restraints which are proper to the occasion, but as  every student of totalitarian regimes, or medieval rhetoric, is aware, even the most elegantly turned compliment may have an ominous undertone. I was relieved, for example, that you did not describe me as an asset to the university, mindful as I was of Sidney Smith's description of the predicament of University College, London, in its impecunious early days - how times change: "I understand they have already seized on the air pump, the exhausted receiver and galvanic batteries, and that the bailiffs have been seen chasing the Professor of Modern History around the quadrangle"

That is not the reason why the Professor of Modern History is unable to be with us this evening, and I hope you will allow me to depart from conventional formality to wish him well. My own regret goes beyond the merely personal, for I had hoped that this evening my relationship with Professor Porter would be placed upon a more regular footing. He has, as you know, a most scrupulous regard for propriety, and I am sorry to say that he has in consequence been somewhat embarrassed by certain aspects of my behaviour. You may recall that he observed in his own inaugural, just over three years ago, that "An inaugural lecture is like a wedding. ... Strictly speaking it is supposed to inaugurate a relationship, to be literally the first lecture one delivers in an institution, though in these permissive times that is generally not the case. Some professors I have known have lived with their institutions two or three years, lecturing to them many times a week, before doing the decent thing. I call that lecturing in sin."

Well, I have been lecturing in sin with the Department of History for two and a half years now, and although Bernard has been very nice about it I am sure he will be relieved that you have made an honest man of me at last. I intend, however, to exact a modest revenge by postponing until the end of my lecture, where contrary to all precedent they will have a logical place in my argument, the observations which you will naturally expect as to the extent of the honour you have done me in inviting me to Newcastle, and my assessment of the qualities and distinction of my predecessors and colleagues.

Regrettable though it may have been from a moral point of view this lengthy period of preinaugural lecturing has given me time to develop a realistic assessment of the probable impact of my well-chosen and weighty words on the sentiments of my colleagues and the policies of my superiors, and relieved me of the task which I might once have supposed to be incumbent on me, of offering some account of the condition of the field of study which I have been called upon to profess, and even some justification for my intention of doing so. Nowadays any such undertaking on the part of a member of the academic staff would be quite improper. It would trespass upon the province of what, thanks to the demands of our political masters, has become one of the most arcane functions of academic administration, the formulation of the mission statements which reassure them that the advance of knowledge and the dissemination of learning will not, in our hands, be conducted without a sufficent subservience to the immediate requirements of public policy and managerial orthodoxy.

In this respect we who live in the Second Century of Academic History enjoy a considerable advantage over our predecessors in the First. As the pioneers of a new discipline which sought rudely to thrust its way into an undergraduate curriculum previously reserved to classics, philosophy and mathematics, they incessantly felt the need to set out the benefits which they believed their subject would bring to its students and to the world in general. The First Century of Academic History began (so far as the British Isles are concerned) at some time between 1850, when History, jointly with Law, became a subject in which Honours might be secured in the Oxford Schools, or 1851, when it was launched at Owens College, Manchester, and (let us say) 1911, when it achieved the same status at Armstrong College. By that time it was flourishing in more or less every university in the country - except for Durham, which got round to it a few years later. Incidentally, Vice-Chancellor, I notice that the establishment of the first Chair of History in preparation for this event, in 1910, came at the time when the College began to pay its Professors a regular stipend, instead of a proportion of its fluctuating fee income. I cannot help wondering whether in the long run they have really got the best of the bargain. At any rate, the First Century ended, rather less precisely, sometime between the early 1960s, when the establishment of large and high-powered Departments of History in several of the clutch of glamorous new universities produced the first serious and effective alternative to the assumptions and methods of the founding fathers, and the precipitate advent of mass higher education in the early 1990s.

Another good year for starting the First Century would be 1870, when History became a single Honours School in Oxford, as it did in Cambridge three years later. By the 1890s it was firmly established, with around 100 students each year in Oxford, and 40 at Cambridge. During the 1870s, and 1880s the principles upon which it would be taught almost everywhere during its First Century were argued out in those two universities. In spite of the differences in their academic structures and traditions the forces which shaped the argument in the two universities were very much the same. In each a leading role in the articulation of the academic principles to be observed was taken by the Regius Professor - respectively William Stubbs and Sir John Seeley - and in each the real structures of teaching were controlled by the college tutors, who effectively subverted the methods and principles which the professors prescribed. Stubbs, easily the greatest English historian of his time, a medievalist, a churchman and a high Tory, and Seeley, a liberal imperialist, and an apostle of recent history, could hardly have been more different in outlook and temperament, but they agreed on the necessity for what Stubbs called "the historical teaching of History," by which he meant teaching on the basis of the critical interpretation of the primary sources, by men (I'm afraid that the notion that it might be done by women was quite alien to both Stubbs and Seeley) who were themselves competent and regularly engaged in research of that kind.

If you think that that sounds an unexceptionable aspiration I can only reply that you don't know Oxford, or indeed Cambridge, where the extent of Seeley's influence was foreshadowed by the Head of House who was overheard to say as he left Seeley's Inaugural, "I never thought I should regret poor Kingsley so soon." History had been introduced into the curricula under the shadow of the Royal Commissions on both Universities set up in 1850, which were regarded by their inmates - quite literally in many cases - as engines of Beelzebub. Thus when it was suggested to the Oxford Commission that the Professors should be responsible for conducting examinations Pusey wrote a pamphlet to demonstrate that the atheism and immorality rampant in German universities were the direct result of the professorial system - that is, of subject specialism. If only we still had advertising like that. The ideal college tutor then and for a long time to come was someone much more like Sligger Urquhart of whom his (admiring) biographer observes "For work at records and documentary authorities, for patient digging in treasure houses and dust heaps, he had little enthusiasm; it was unnatural to him, and he doubted whether he had the capacity to produce results." When it is added that he cared little for committee work, and apart from a short spell as Junior Dean took no part in the adminstration of Balliol, of which he was a Fellow for forty years, and that "He had not quite the alertness of mind which could immediately make the right comment on an essay" you may wonder what Sligger Urquhart was for, and why he left a legend that is venerated in certain circles to this day. The answer is that he was extremely well connected - especially since there is nothing like being well connected for becoming better connected - and admirably equipped for the role of social and moral mentor which Oxford and Cambridge tutors of the nineteenth century inherited from their private counterparts in the eighteenth. The guest book of the Swiss chalet at which Urquhart conducted reading parties of the glitterati for many years is studded with names which became familiar in later years including, to mention a few almost at random, those of Herbert Asquith, Roger Casement, Ronald Knox, Harold Macmillan, Kenneth Clark (of Civilization), Quintin Hogg and R. H. S. Crossman. If Urquhart agreed with Stubbs and Seeley that the object of a historical education was to impart a familiarity with the English political tradition and the institutions associated with it, provide a training in political judgement, and thus constitute a school for statesmanship, he saw no need for grubbing in the records to achieve it.

In such hands as these there was little danger that the rigours of the new School of History would overstrain the modest abilities of those for whom it was intended. Seeley, as an undergraduate in the 1850s, "only went [to my tutor's lectures] because I was ill and had been recommended not to study too hard." Thus is it was that the Belgian historian Paul Frédéricq, making a circuit of Europe's universities in the 1884 to gather examples of best practice in the advanced teaching of history, was able in Oxford to observe only how the young men after a short morning and a liesurely lunch "left off their caps and gowns to walk through the streets and gardens dressed in elegant blazers in the colours of their colleges and clubs." No wonder that for Stubbs as he left Oxford, "we still have much to do before the History School at Oxford can take its place beside the historical schools of Paris, of Bonn, of Gõttingen, or Munich or Vienna," or that for Paul Vinogradoff, whose appointment to the Chair of Jurisprudence in 1903 brought a scholar trained in the tradition of Ranke to Oxford at last, it was "not a University at all, but a high school for young gentlemen."

As that suggests, the new order was not without its critics, especially of the superficiality of the reading and the artificiality of the examination system. According to C. H. Firth, taking up the Oxford chair in 1905, the able student "has remained too long the passive recipient of other men's knowledge. He has been taught results instead of method; not how to find out, but what to remember. The test for which he has been prepared is to compose in 30 hours of examination 40 or 50 short essays. This montonous exercise tests his memory, his presence of mind and his rhetorical skill with great efficiency, but it is a poor test of historical ability." Upon such a foundation the talents and enthusiasm for the study of history at the highest level could be neither identified nor nourished. Similar criticisms were repeated throughout the First Century of Academic History by virtually every historian whom we now remember with respect. As one of them, George Kitson Clark, observed, "stone breaking on the roads could hardly have been more wearisome and must often have been more useful" for all the effect it had on anything that ever happened in either Oxford or Cambridge. Except at Manchester, where History from the beginning, like the University itself, consciously and deliberately followed the secular German model, English academic history ignored throughout its First Century Mark Pattison's warning to Oxford that "we shall never place our university on a sure footing as long as we regard the undergraduate alone as the end and purpose of the institution."

The idiom of the lectures and pamphlets in which these parochial and arid debates are preserved is no more seductive than the jargon of the papers and memoranda which are their modern counterparts. They reverberate with pomposity, and are smothered in the moral earnestness which we now find so alien in the Victorians. Yet there was a good deal to be earnest about. A lot was at stake, and to look back now on the first century of academic history is to see that a lot was achieved. In respect of the scholarly standards and technical foundations of the discipline the fears of the critics were largely justified in the event. There have been very great historians and very great books, of course; it could hardly have been otherwise. But in the essential groundwork, the collecting and editing of texts and the mastery of the ancillary disciplines such as bibliography, palaeography, diplomatic, sigillography and so on, in the production of lists and catalogues, chronologies, dictionaries, handbooks and atlases, the British historical profession has until recently only fitfully approached the standards which were set in Germany by the middle of the nineteenth century. And if we have failed to match the Germans in what we like to dismiss as pedantry, we have been equally undistinguished as a profession - despite, once again, the brilliant achievements of brilliant individuals - in opening up new approaches and new areas of investigation, new kinds of curiosity, new forms of historical writing, in which the French have always led the way: you will look almost in vain for a British Bloch or Braudel, Foucault, Le Goff or Ladurie. The one new area in which British activity as a whole could be said to have helped to set the world pace, Economic History, grew out of Economics, not History, in Faculties of Social Sciences, not of Arts. Most of its practitioners have denied that they are historians at all, and to this day HEFCE and the research councils agree. Archaeology, the other essentially historical discipline in which British work has indisputably led the world, and still does, has likewise held itself aloof from History and History Departments, for which it has sometimes tended to foster in its students a hurtful, but not entirely unmerited disdain. In short, the very small number of grade 5's, denoting international excellence, awarded to U. K. History Departments in the last Research Assessment Exercise constituted a just appraisal of their achievement by world standards, though I must confess that I have never succeeded in extracting an admission from any of those responsible that this judgment was deliberately, or indeed consciously arrived at.

If the First Century of Academic History in Britain deserves so luke warm an appraisal in scholarly terms however - and it is just possible that in offering it I may not reflect the views of the British historical profession as a whole - the pedagogic achievement has been formidable. From the 1890s History established itself rapidly as a leading subject in Faculties of Arts both in numbers and prestige. Until the rise of English in the 1960s no other subject rivalled it on both counts. This popularity has been firmly based in turn on the central place of History in the school curriculum: it has consistently been among the six or eight subjects with the largest numbers of entrants for O and A level examinations, and in producing the largest numbers of the most highly qualified university applicants, so that no university with a serious stake in the Arts or Social Sciences could contemplate an academic structure without a substantial Department of History at its core.

This sustained popularity has been no accident. Much the same story may be told everywhere in the developed world. In 1870 History became not only part of a Cambridge tripos but a subject of examination for entry to the Civil Service. In 1884 Frédéricq reported that Oxford's History graduates went into politics, law, journalism ("en angleterre presque scientifique") and occasionally teaching. Of Manchester's 45 graduates in History between 1882 and 1901, 4 were teaching at Universities a few years later, 1 at a college and 11 in schools; there were also 6 lawyers, 4 businessmen, 7 ministers of religion, and 4 on what were called "the fringes of academic and literary work," - journalism again. The most general phenomenon to which History contributed everywhere was neither the creation of new states nor the subjugation of old ones, but the rise of what has been called professional society. Throughout those decades an ever larger number and an ever larger proportion of positions of economic importance, social prestige and political influence, both at national and at local levels, (though in England perhaps not so great a proportion as elsewhere of the very highest) have been occupied by virtue not of inherited rank, landed property or skilfully managed capital, but of individual expertise created and authenticated by higher education. The greatest value has been attached to the subjects thought to foster general intellectual and personal skills rather than specific training for identified functions. And among these subjects History has, from the beginning, commanded a prestige equalled only by Classics and Philosophy, while producing graduates in far greater numbers than either. In short, History has been the mainstay of the chattering classes, which may have something to do with its disproportionate contribution, more recently, to the ranks of their persecutors.

This success was firmly rooted in the enormous achievement of this first century of academic history in research, not only in Britain but everywhere in Europe, - in identifying innumerable archives and collections from the Vatican to the village hall, securing access to them, listing and cataloguing, editing and publishing their contents, training students in their use. Upon that foundation was established a master narrative of History, containing within itself, like every successful system of scholastic thought, infinite room for disagreement and dispute. It held that human achievement had reached its peak in the liberal democracies of the industrial age. Both democracy and industrialisation, (inseparable from each other in the standard version, though not in the marxist variant), were attributable to the unique qualities of Christian, or European, or Western Civilization, and in particular to its synthesis of the rational and democratic traditions of the classical civilization of the ancient Mediterranean with the spiritual insights and values of the Judaeo-Christian legacy. This synthesis, perfected by the renaissance after a millennium of maturation since the end of antiquity, imparted to the nation states of Western Europe both the dynamism which generated world-dominating and world-transforming power, and the checks and balances which restrained its exercise, in pointed contrast to the stagnant and decaying but still absolutist tyrannies of Asia.

Academic History was founded on this narrative, which in its first century it consolidated and diffused. The parameters of the undergraduate curriculum, and of much the greater part of research as well, were very largely those which had been shaped in its light, by Ranke and his pupils for continental Europe, and by Stubbs and Seeley for Oxford and Cambridge, and through them the British Empire. Thus the Oxford syllabus, as Stubbs described it, was founded on "a continuous reading of our national history    an epochal treatment of a portion of general european history .... and the special study of some character or period in the original authorities." Everywhere the history of the nation and what were held to be its antecessors, usually from around the end of antiquity until the end of the First or of the Second World War, formed the core of historical teaching. It was complemented by selections from the general history of Europe, or (more recently) of the European empires, and by courses which stood in their various traditions for some essential core of European intellectual culture - in Britain very often the History of Political Thought, from Aristotle to Mill or Marx. This was the case even, or especially, where the nation itself was of comparatively recent origin. For example, the history of the United States (where the German and English traditions were effectively synthesised) was deemed to have begun with the arrival of Europeans in the western hemisphere; its larger context was provided not by any account of the pre-Columbian Americas, which was left to anthropologists and archaeologists, but of the development of Western Civilization (from Plato to Nato, as English observers liked to say, sneering at its scope rather than its orientation), which provided the staple of every American college course.

In the 1960s this consensus broke down. It began to be widely questioned whether national history was indeed the only proper basis for the curriculum, or a proper basis at all; whether politics and international affairs - "the quarrels of Popes and kings with wars and pestilence on every page and hardly any women at all" which Catherine Morland found so oppressive - should dominate the historical agenda at the expense of economic, social and cultural development; whether the aristocratic and middle-class men who had monopolised economic and political power should also monopolise the historical record, to the exclusion of the working classes, of racial and cultural minorities and, most immediately and challengingly in that decade, of women.

Of course such questions had been asked before, especially by marxists, and in France by the Annales school of historians which had been founded before the war by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, and become increasingly influential after it. But even where the questioners were highly respected as individuals they had not shaken the broad consensus upon which the practice and teaching of History as a mainstream subject rested. In the 1960s it was different, largely for general cultural and political reasons, but also because the expansion of higher education everywhere in the developed world in that decade provided the resources and opportunity for an explosion of activity which within a few years transformed the general understanding of what "History" meant and was supposed to contain. I have a vivid recollection of the encomium pronounced at the Board of the Faculty of Arts in my last university, in 1980, by the then Dean and Professor of Modern History, upon a predecessor who had occupied successively between 1931 and 1965 the Chairs of History, Modern History and Medieval History, and was very much a pillar of the First Century. "As Professor of Medieval History he taught Medieval European History, and Medieval English History; before that, as Professor of Modern History he not only taught Modern European History and Modern English History, but also in an emergency took over the course in Imperial and American History. Therefore, he taught the whole of History."

The Dean was not a simpleton. He knew very well that the whole of Academic History was not the same thing as the whole of History. Even so, his words evoked a vanished age. In the early 1960s it was still the case everywhere in England except in the brand-new "plateglass" universities that degrees in history were based upon two, three or even four compulsory papers (out of nine or ten) in the History of England (sic) from the Anglo-Saxons to the Second World War, with an intensive study of selected documents of constitutional history and occasional forays into other parts of the western world. By the end of the decade that pattern had vanished almost everywhere, except in Oxford.

The subsequent expansion of the horizons of academic history has been dramatic. The quality and quantity of historical research and writing has risen exponentially in each decade, and the advances have been most spectacular in the areas previously most neglected, especially in Asian and African history, and in social history, notably including fields like the history of population, gender, and popular culture which lend themselves well to the intensive study at local levels still necessary to lay a systematic groundwork of knowledge in almost all periods and regions, but which also demand, and are receiving, sophisticated comparison of experience across wide stretches of time and space. The rapidly burgeoning field of environmental history is a good example of a subject which traverses the boundaries of several disciplines, needs to be discussed in a world-wide framework and in relation to change over very long periods of time as well as at many different times, and is manifestly pertinent to urgent and widely perceived contemporary concerns, while at the same time offering the possibility of fresh approaches to some very old and remote puzzles indeed.

No historian can be anything but grateful for this enormous enlargement and enrichment of the discipline. Nor is it surprising that to many of those who are writing and teaching the new history the traditional priorities and structures of the old have come to seem oppressive and exploitative in themselves. We do not have to agree with those who advocate the replacement of History by Herstory to see that by ignoring the history of women and gender, as it might be, or of racial or cultural minorities, we not only accepted too unthinkingly a framework for our inquiries which was defined and bounded by traditional structures of social power, but in doing so reinforced, and in some sense legitimised them.

All of these new directions and new emphases have come to be reflected in the history teaching of today's universities. But they have not been absorbed into the structure of Academic History - if, indeed, Academic History still has a structure - or contributed to the formation of a new master narrative. That is not what has eroded the old curricular structure. The explosion of knowledge since the 1960s has been far greater in the traditional areas of the discipline, quantitatively speaking, than the new ones. Historians of science, or of Siam, were happy enough to agree to the admission of their fields into the curriculum through the substitution of optional courses on short periods or restricted themes for compulsory tours d'horizon on the grand scale, but the specialists in late medieval Italy and early Stuart England, in the Industrial Revolution, the Third French Republic and the Rise of Nazism were far more numerous, and led the way, desperate to create a pedagogical environment in which their students could hope to grasp not only the rapidly changing conclusions of contemporary historical scholarship, but the dense fabric of source criticism and scholarly debate upon which they were based. It was, in many ways, a revival of the concern of Firth and others at the beginning of the First Century, that the teaching of the subject to undergraduates should reflect the highest standards of current professional scholarship.

What we did not see so clearly was that by fragmenting our vision of the past in response to the growth of specialist knowledge professionalism was devouring its children. We have become better and better at examining trees, and increasingly uncertain of the shape of the woods. Yet without a clear, though always provisional map of the woods we have no way of telling which trees are worth examining. In consequence we are allowing the world whose history we teach to become increasingly remote from, and irrelevant to, that in which our students are living, and which it is necessary that they should comprehend. To offer one very simple - perhaps over-simple - example, it is absurd that when, for better or worse, the nature, extent and institutional realisation of the unity of Europe has become a dominant issue of the time, the teaching of European history, especially modern European history, has almost disappeared from our universities, to be replaced by periods and topics in the history of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and so on. Quite without malice aforethought historians, not only in Britain but I think everywhere, are constructing by default a Europe des patries.

The success of academic history in its first century was due in part to the harmony between its structure and content and its broader social and educational role. However cogent its critics, there can be no serious doubt that it succeeded in encapsulating a consensus of what Academic History was about - a consensus so secure that for most of that time it could be commonly asserted, without fear of influential contradiction, that History, as taught in British universities and schools, was not only politically neutral, but not political at all, and indeed that its claim to a prominent place in the educational curriculum was based not on its factual or substantial content, but on the training it provided in "intellectual gymnastic." This, of course, was nonsense. No human society has ever been capable of functioning effectively or cohesively without a shared understanding of its own past, whether explicit or implicit, and twentieth-century Britain was no exception. The re-entry of the History curriculum into the arena of political debate in the 1980s both in Britain and in the United States was a clear indication of the collapse of consensus about social relations and the role of the state, not so much a post-war as a Post Great War settlement. It also signalled the end of the hegemony of the professional elites which had created that consensus, and to whose own formation Academic History had contributed so much.

Two questions remain: whether we can identify a shape and substance for Academic History that will serve its Second Century as effectively as our predecessors did the first without repeating their mistakes, and how it is to be delivered. It is easy in principle to describe the new curriculum. It will be based on the whole history of the whole world, both because intellectual respectability demands it - who would take seriously a physics or a chemistry that excluded three quarters of its subject matter on the ground that this would make it easier to teach? - and because, in any case, the world now demands, and will accept, nothing less. The central task of its designers will be to translate into courses and course requirements, levels and modules, the new map of the human past which has begun to take shape with increasingly convincing clarity and cogency over the past ten or fifteen years, replacing the proud story of the genesis and triumph of Western Civilization. Eurocentrism in itself is no longer an issue. As my younger contemporary Caroline Walker Bynum puts it in her presidential column in the current issue of the journal of the American Historical Association, "My generation's agenda is over and done with. We must learn from the next generation, and to that generation the agenda is - and must be - the world."

In this perspective, Vice-Chancellor, I am singularly fortunate both in the subject which I profess, and in the place where I find myself professing it. As to the first, it is more than time to jettison the word "medieval." It came into existence in the sixteenth century to describe a world that appeared barbarous in the light of the recovery (as it was thought) of classical learning, and experienced a revival of popularity in the nineteenth when the rise of industrial society seemed to divide that world by an unbridgeable chasm from "the modern world". It now serves only to obscure the fact that throughout Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Sea of Japan, between the seventh and the eighteenth centuries the literate, urbanised societies of antiquity which had collapsed under their own weight were replaced by more adaptable and more dynamic successors which diffused urban civilization and its influence far more widely and deeply than before, while constructing tenacious and enduring social and cultural orders which embraced not merely the elites, but the whole of society. Since most of the horrors which have convulsed not only the twentieth century but, it is increasingly obvious, the twenty-first, have arisen in one way or another from the confrontation between the varying legacies of those traditional orders and the demands and consequences of modernisation, it is no longer possible to pretend that the old world was simply swept away by the march of progress, so that its study could be safely abandoned to nostalgia, eccentricity and escapism. In the Second Century of Academic History specialists in what is still the best studied, and in many (though not all) ways the best documented of these traditional societies are finding themselves at the centre of controversy and debate quite as urgent as those in which their nominally more "contemporary" colleagues are engaged.

As to the place, it will not have escaped my colleagues that in offering these prescriptions I bring you little more than pedagogical coals. My two predecessors in this chair have both been highly distinguished exceptions to the strictures upon the scholarly technique and the parochialism of the British - I should rather say, the English - historical profession with which I began. Geoffrey Barrow's editions of the charters of the Scottish kings exemplified technical accomplishment of the highest and most exacting order, while the breadth of his vision and the vigour of his prose made him one of the leaders of the benign transformation of English into British history which has done so much to reinvigorate an exhausted field (and to illustrate the point I have just made) as well as to make its crop more wholesome. Jack Watt also contributed handsomely to that enterprise, and as a distinguished scholar of canon law commanded both formidable technical skills and a rare universalism of outlook. It is hardly necessary to make the point that European history is no longer a sufficient vantage point, or that world history is not concerned only with the recent past, on joining a department where Elizabeth Redgate has been introducing students to an early medieval world bounded not by the Rhine and the Danube, but by the Urals, the Oxus and the Hindu Kush, while Simon Lloyd has placed the relations between Christendom and Islam, and their cultural and instititutional as well as military influences upon one another, at the centre of his teaching and research. It is a breadth of outlook entirely characteristic of a Department which, in spite of its very small academic staff, thoroughly exemplifies the richness of its discipline both in geographical and cultural as well as chronological range - many much larger departments have not found room for two Russian and two American historians - and in a versatility of technique, which includes high expertise in historical demography, arial photography and oral history.

The incorporation of a broader and more complex vision of the past into a curriculum, which now, and essentially, includes both undergraduate and postgraduate study, and thence into the general culture of the next century, is probably the greatest challenge before the historical profession, not only in Britain but throughout the world - for we are increasingly a world community, with a common agenda. In Britain, however, the challenge is sharpened by the dilemma presented by the precipitate, though belated, advent of mass higher education, as by that of any other mass market. Those with the means to take advantage of it, the Sainsburys and Tescos of higher education, will take the quickest route to the largest turnover by offering the widest possible range of products at sharp prices, though not necessarily the very sharpest. In doing so, as they already are, they present their smaller competitors with an uncomfortable predicament. For many there will be no escape from the familiar, relentless decline of the corner shop, open at all hours, cutting margins to the bone, serving an ever dingier range of stale and fly-blown products to the indigent and immobile who lack the means or the energy to find their way to the modern shopping centre.

Those who can escape will be the few who find the vision and will, and the institutional support, to act on the only worthwhile maxim that ever emerged from a business school, that there is always room at the top of the market, by evolving a distinctive product good enough to command a premium. The choice is much the same both intellectually and pedagogically as that which confronted our predecessors a century ago, except that the enemy of intellectual standards now is not God but Mammon. I would not deny antiquarianism, tourism and the heritage industry their role. Consumer history will flourish in a consumer society with or without the endorsement of Academic History, for which its contempt is so obvious. You may see it in every shopping mall and colour supplement. Nothing could be easier than to provide the curricular equivalents of the Encarta encyclopedia, the time capsules and the replica soldiers. History, in the broader sense which I have eschewed this evening, is a very old profession indeed. Its luminaries have always thrived on the contempt of the truly powerful, and will not fail to supply the universities of the Malls with the attractively packaged lite, lo-fat, taste-free diet which their customers require.

That is not, however, the business of Academic History. I learned that lesson at a conference twenty years or so ago, when the most distinguished scholar present quietly left the room while I was delivering a paper which in the current fashion advocated greater optionalization of the History syllabus, and more emphasis on the acquisition of skills rather than the memorisation of facts. He later explained to the organiser that he could not bear to hear it argued that knowing what happened did not matter. His name was Jehuda Baer; his own contribution to the conference had been a massively harrowing and sobering account of the logistical and practical task which confronted the Institute that he headed in Jerusalem in charting the destruction of European Jewry, by tracing and identifying the individual fates of the six million victims of the Holocaust; he is one of the very great historians of our time. I had not meant to argue that knowing what happened does not matter, but you will understand why I have been careful ever since not to give the impression of arguing it either. It does matter, and the first responsibility of Academic History is to make sure that we do know what happened, that we continue to know it, and that we get to know it better. If I had succumbed to the temptation to deliver an inaugural lecture in the style of the First Century of Academic History that is what I would have tried to say. If I had been rash enough to undertake any task in my tenure of the chair in which you have so generously placed me, that is the one to which I would have hoped to contribute.