Thursday, April 26, 2007

David Armitage

Some time ago, David Armitage, Professor of History at Harvard University and author of The Declaration of Independence: A Global History -- the current feature in the Page 69 Test series -- talked to the Harvard Gazette about his work.

Part of the interview covered one of his earlier books:

Armitage, a graduate of Cambridge University, gained wide recognition in his field for his 2000 opus The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, which won the History Today book prize. The book aims to put British history into its widest intellectual context, taking into its sweep ideological notions from ancient Rome as well as neighboring empire-builders such as Spain.

At its heart, the work ponders why Britain's empire building lagged behind that of other European nations. Armitage's approach pointed to ideas, rather than military might or wealth, as delaying Britain's foray into conquest.

"One reason that struck me ... was the importance of classical models of history, which show that for example the Roman Empire led to corruption and decline," he says. When Britons overcame those fears of empire and expansion, they became an imperial power.

One of the book's most groundbreaking concepts, Armitage says, was how it combined imperial history with domestic British history, helping to launch an intellectual movement that is now very important. "Why did there seem to be two different histories?" he says, noting that historians had previously dealt with either state and nation or expansion and empire. "I believed that it was essential to break down that entirely artificial barrier between those two histories."
Read the entire interview.

Learn more about Armitage's The Declaration of Independence: A Global History, and see how the Page 69 Test fared with the book.

--Marshal Zeringue