A historian’s Spanish lessons for modern America





Sir John Elliott is our greatest historian of 16th- and 17th-century Spain and the author of the magisterial biography “The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline.” In “History in the Making” this distinguished scholar — now in his early 80s — looks back on his career as a Hispanist and reflects on the developments in historiography over the past 60 years.

Straight off, Elliott lays out his cards: “I believe that theory is of less importance for the writing of good history than the ability to enter imaginatively into the life of a society remote in time or place, and produce a plausible explanation of why its inhabitants thought and behaved as they did.” While Elliott has done intense archival research and learned much from the social-science approaches of the French “Annales” school, he nonetheless comes across as very much a classic British historian: thoughtful, non-doctrinaire and quietly brilliant. He sensibly notes, for instance, that “over-interpretation” has joined “the post-modern insistence on the impossibility of interpretation as one of the sins of our age.”...



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