John Elliott (historian)

British historian (1930–2022)

John Elliott (23 June 1930 – 10 March 2022) was a British historian and Hispanist who was Regius Professor Emeritus at the University of Oxford.


Professor Sir John Elliott Interview (March 7, 2008)Edit

Professor Sir John Elliott, Interview Transcript (March 7, 2008)

  • ...In Oxford there was and is an enormous commitment to individual teaching, or teaching in very small numbers, and a real interest in the intellectual development of undergraduates.
  • ...As there was a growing pressure to publish, and publish to a deadline – which I think is a disaster, and has been an intellectual disaster...
  • ...I believe that one of the great contributions of British historians of the 20th century to history and the historical profession has been their willingness to look beyond the British Isles.
  • ...The whole trend towards rather nit-picking revisionism. The old big picture often presented by Marxist or marxisant historians began to be eroded by a new generation, and I think the result all too often has been a narrowing of focus, a fragmenting of the discipline. And my whole life I’ve been trying to save the big picture and promote its virtues and its importance.
    I think at this moment we may be seeing a shift back to something rather larger, as against microhistory, and revisionist mini-history. There has been a growing realisation of the importance of a wider framework, and that framework may be pan-European, it may be Atlantic history, or increasingly, global history.
  • I’ve always tried to keep in mind the big picture, which I believe is one of the biggest contributions of Marxist or marxisant historians to the historiography of the twentieth century. For all the flaws in the Marxist approach – and I could never accept the determinism that one finds even in Braudel (perhaps because of the influence of Butterfield I was always impressed by the role of personality and contingency in the development of historical events) – I was very aware of the interactions, imitations and parallel developments resulting from what in many respects were similar social and economic backgrounds.
  • The younger generation think in terms of the present and the future, and they’ve lost a sense of what happened before their lifetimes. They’ve lost any notion of the complexities of the past, and the fact that statesmen were struggling with similar problems in the 17th century as in the late 20th – threats to the unity of a nation state that was moving towards the form of development that it would reach in the 19th century.
  • I think it’s terribly important for the historian to take the alternative point of view to the fashionable one, and present the options.
    For instance, the assumption in much of the 19th and 20th centuries was that the centralised nation state was the culmination of a millennium of European history. What we now see as a result of the development of the European Community, of globalisation, of corporate institutions, and transnational corporate institutions, is that the nation state has been put under increasing pressure from above. And at the same time, and partly as a consequence of that, there’s increasing pressure from what you might call the under-represented or suppressed ethnic groups, regions and so on. So we’re getting these pressures on the 19th/20th century nation state both from above and from below.
  • If you knew for instance, that British had been in Iraq in the 1920’s, and had run into problems there, this might at least make you pause before taking major policy decisions.
  • I think one of the things that it is most important for historians to do is to deconstruct myths, and that when you get nationalist historiography, as in Serbia for instance, casting people in the role of permanent victims, and creating a very narrow focus, that’s really dangerous. It seems to me that our role is constantly to question the orthodoxy of the day.

"In this globalized world, there is no such thing as independence", El Pais (January 14, 2013)Edit

"In this globalized world, there is no such thing as independence", El Pais (January 14, 2013)

  • The life of a historian or any other academic is not very interesting - in fact it's quite boring. I read a great deal as a child...
  • In this globalized world, there is no such thing as independence.
  • ...In this globalized world, independence no longer exists. It is gladdening to see that we are part of a world in which we are all linked. There is also a thing called generosity: any people that thinks only of itself and is not generous with others is doing itself harm in the long run.
  • I have always said that it is precisely at moments of economic difficulty when politicians emerge who want to take advantage of widespread discontent to impose their own agenda.
  • For many years Madrid's policies were mistaken. If you compare the union of Scotland and England in 1707, for instance, with the Bourbons and Catalonia, you'll see that England immediately involved Scotland in its empire project. A great many Scots held important positions in government, as well as leading the economy over the following centuries. This did not happen with Catalonia.
  • The Bourbons imposed an authoritarian rule in the 18th century, shutting down the regional parliaments and ruling from the center, making a balance between the innate diversity of Spain and the concept of a united Spain.
  • In the second half of the 17th century, the Catalans saw that the relationship with Spain had failed, and so they rebelled against Philip V; then they realized that the French were no different. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Catalans began to see the opportunities that being in Spain presented. I think that, like the Scots, they took advantage of those opportunities. But historians are not prophets, and it now looks as though our two countries could break up.
  • By definition a historian must be curious; that is what makes us look into the heart of societies. I think that I was surprised by the relative ease with which Spain moved from dictatorship to democracy after the death of Franco. But thinking about the impact of civil wars on societies I have reached the conclusion that the generation that grows up after a civil war has such terrible memories of what happened that it does everything possible to prevent a repetition in the future.
  • We have to learn to navigate this globalized world. Instant communication has changed our lives; those crises of the 18th and 19th centuries were not known around the world, but now we know what is going on everywhere at any time. But we are also seeing a world in which the banks and the large multinationals are playing a bigger role than ever in making decisions about how we live. These supranational organizations are pressuring governments, and that is distancing government from the people. People want more control over their lives, which is why we are seeing a resurgence of regionalism, of ethnicity, of nationalism - everybody wants a place in the sun.

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: