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The Autonomy of History

Truth and Method from Erasmus to Gibbon

In these learned essays, Joseph M. Levine shows how the idea and method of modern history first began to develop during the Renaissance, when a clear distinction between history and fiction was first proposed. The new claims for history were met by a new skepticism in a debate that still echoes today.

Levine’s first three essays discuss Thomas More’s preoccupation with the distinction between history and fiction; Erasmus’s biblical criticism and the contribution of Renaissance philology to critical method; and the way in which Renaissance rhetoric, as in Thomas Elyot’s Book of the Governor, continued to inhibit the autonomy of history. He then shows how these issues persisted into the eighteenth century, even as critical method developed. He concludes with a close description of the great controversy that culminated in Edward Gibbon’s day over the authenticity of a biblical text that had been used for centuries to defend the Trinity but which turned out to be a forgery. Levine shows how by then all sides were ready to concede the autonomy of history.

267 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1999

History: British and Irish History, European History, History of Ideas

Table of Contents

Part One: Renaissance Essays
Ch. 1. Thomas More and the English Renaissance: History and Fiction in Utopia
Ch. 2. Philology and History: Erasmus and the Johannine Comma
Ch. 3. Thomas Elyot, Stephen Hawes, and the Education of Eloquence
Part Two: Ancients and Moderns
Ch. 4. Strife in the Republic of Letters
Ch. 5. The Battle of the Books and the Field of Achilles
Ch. 6. Jonathan Swift and the Idea of History
Ch. 7. Giambattista Vico and the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns
Part Three: Edward Gibbon and the Johannine Comma
Ch. 8. Truth and Method in Gibbon’s Historiography
Ch. 9. Travis vs. Gibbon
Ch. 10 Porson vs. Travis
Part Four: History and Theory
Ch. 11 The Autonomy of History: R.G. Collingwood and Agatha Christie
Ch. 12 Collingwood, Vico, and the Autobiography
Ch. 13 Method in the History of Ideas: More, Machiavelli, and Quentin Skinner
Ch. 14 Objectivity in History: Peter Novick and R.G. Collingwood

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