The Undivided Past: History Beyond our Differences

David Cannadine

The Undivided Past: History Beyond our Differences

David Cannadine attempts to understand how so much of the writing of history has been driven by a fatal desire to dramatize differences — to create an 'us versus them'. Great works of history have so often had at their heart a wish to sift people in ways that have been profoundly damaging and provided the intellectual backing and justification for terrible political decisions. Again and again, categories have been found — whether religion, nation, class, gender, race or 'civilization' — that have sought to explain world events by fabricating some malevolent or helpless 'other'. This book is above all an appeal to common humanity. We seem doomed always to fall (most recently in the wake of 9/11) into the 'us versus them' trap, but there is no reason why the history we read and write should not be much better than this and describe what we all have in common rather than what divides us. 3.2 out of 5 based on 5 reviews
The Undivided Past: History Beyond our Differences

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History, Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format
Pages
RRP
Date of Publication March 2013
ISBN 978-1846141324
Publisher Allen Lane
 

David Cannadine attempts to understand how so much of the writing of history has been driven by a fatal desire to dramatize differences — to create an 'us versus them'. Great works of history have so often had at their heart a wish to sift people in ways that have been profoundly damaging and provided the intellectual backing and justification for terrible political decisions. Again and again, categories have been found — whether religion, nation, class, gender, race or 'civilization' — that have sought to explain world events by fabricating some malevolent or helpless 'other'. This book is above all an appeal to common humanity. We seem doomed always to fall (most recently in the wake of 9/11) into the 'us versus them' trap, but there is no reason why the history we read and write should not be much better than this and describe what we all have in common rather than what divides us.

David Cannadine: interview | Dan Jones | Telegraph

Reviews

The Spectator

Philip Ziegler

David Cannadine detests generalisations and looks disapprovingly on any attempt to divide humanity into precise categories. The Undivided Past provides a resoundingly dusty answer to any historian rash enough to seek for certainties in this our life. It is highly intelligent, stimulating, occasionally provocative and enormous fun to read.

06/04/2013

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Times Higher Education

Jill Stephenson

... the most effective way for historians to gain their colleagues’ — and perhaps also the media’s — attention is to overstate their case. This, then, is what Cannadine is doing, using a rather selective body of literature to sustain his arguments ... It is all too easy to agree that we have multiple identities ... But Cannadine has produced a set of lively and informative essays that are leavened from time to time by a dry wit. One does not have to accept wholeheartedly his premise to appreciate the skill with which he examines his chosen categories.

14/03/2013

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The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

The heavy podium style tends to steer what is a very personal project — born out of his exasperation at the ideological and academic denial of empathy and affinity — into a stern, cross survey of the error-strewn literature ... His book's combative stance also means that its own ideal of amicable commerce and co-existence between peoples passes with only superficial examinatio ... Yet, while the fetishism of a single, adversarial identity still derails the study of history as much as the practice of politics, The Undivided Past should earn applause.

05/04/2013

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The Financial Times

Mark Mazower

Now, The Undivided Past suggests, the only solidarity that is acceptable is solidarity with humankind: nothing less will do because anything more partial risks dividing us, and division means fisticuffs or worse. Yet is there not something ultimately quietist about writing off many of the conceptual vehicles that have previously allowed people to mobilise? Not all conflict, after all, is bad and justice sometimes may even require it.

08/03/2013

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The New Statesman

Richard Overy

This is a strange book … Cannadine has chosen to set up a row of straw men rather than engage with what most of his historical colleagues are really up to. What is most worrying about Cannadine’s argument is the idea that somehow historians have helped to construct a false version of reality. It is simply not the case that for most of human history social groups, peoples, empires and genders have got on reasonably well. Historians reflect in what they write an inherited reality, however distorted or opaque their portrayal of it can sometimes be.

14/03/2013

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