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224 pp. 211 x 148mm.

Secret History and Historical Consciousness

From Renaissance to Romanticism.

Peter Burke

"Burke makes arcane topics of daunting complexity relevant and readily accessible in remarkable feats of translation from past to present."  David Lowenthal,​TLS

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About this book

​The leading cultural historian Professor Peter Burke offers here several innovative approaches to cultural history.

The volume is introduced by an important autobiographical essay in which the author attempts to place his own career in its historical context.

A key topic, from which the volume derives its name, is ‘secret history’, a phrase that came into use in the later seventeenth century to describe a new genre of historical writing by authors who claimed to be able to go behind the scenes and tell the public the real reasons for important events.

Professor Burke focusses on key topics that he believes to have been unjustly neglected, such as the rise of ‘literal-mindedness’ or the history of the idea of context. In the history of historical writing itself, one of these neglected topics is allegorical history - in other words, writing about the past in order to communicate a message about the present.

The book ranges from the history of humour to the history of stereotypes (the ‘Black Legend’ of the Jesuits).  Professor Burke studies the history of oral poetry, as well as changing conceptions of biography, linked to changing perceptions of individuals. He addresses pivotal issues and some familiar themes from unusual angles. These include the case of the anthropology and the geography of the Renaissance, and the study of postmodern views of history as myth, compared with the views of seventeenth-century sceptics.  

Contents: Introduction: Invitation to historians: An intellectual self-portrait, or the history of a historian. Part I, Historiography: Publicizing the Private: the rise of “secret history”; History as Allegory; Two Crises of Historical Consciousness. Part II. Renaissance: Anthropology of the Renaissance; The Historical Geography of the Renaissance; Frontiers of the Comic in Early Modern Italy; Individuality and Biography in the Renaissance; Oral Culture and Print Culture in Renaissance Italy. Part III. Intellectual History: The Rise of Literal-Mindedness; Context in Context; The Black Legend of the Jesuits: an essay in the history of social stereotypes; Historicizing the Self, 1770-1830.

About the author

Peter Burke was, from 1962-79, one of the leading educational innovators in developing the inter-disciplinary School of European Studies at University of Sussex. He then moved to the University of Cambridge, where he now holds the title of Professor Emeritus of Cultural History and Fellow of Emmanuel College. He is celebrated world-wide as a historian both of the early modern era and as a writer and teacher who emphasizes the relevance of social and cultural history to modern issues. He is married to Brazilian historian Maria Lúcia Garcia Pallares-Burke.

His many influential works include The Italian Renaissance (1972); Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (1978); Sociology and History (1980); The Renaissance (1987); The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School 1929-89 (1990); History and Social Theory (1991); The Fabrication of Louis XIV (1992); The Art of Conversation (1993); Varieties of Cultural History (1997); The European Renaissance: Centres and Peripheries (1998); A Social History of Knowledge (2000); Eyewitnessing (2000); New Perspectives on Historical Writing (2001) (editor and contributor); A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (2002) (with Asa Briggs); What is Cultural History? (2004); Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe (2004); Cultural Hybridity (2009); and A Social History of Knowledge Volume II: From the Encyclopedie to Wikipedia (2012).



"Burke characteristically mixes seemingly opposing approaches – historical truth and fiction, oral and print sources, elite and folk tastes, mega- and micro history, symbolic and literal readings, private and public knowledge – to reveal their coexistence and interaction. He revisits received views with neglected or newly discovered sources and aperçus, not to overturn but to enlighten and amplify. Burke makes arcane topics of daunting complexity relevant and readily accessible in remarkable feats of translation from past to present. Familiarity with an extraordinary range of multilingual sources is couched in graceful and self-effacing prose, consistently instructive and entertaining.”

- David Lowenthal, Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 2017.

"Secret History is a timely collection in which Peter’s Burke’s many strengths as a cultural historian are all on display: intellectual independence, restless curiosity, a willingness to seek out questions others have ignored, and a mastery of the early modern period and its legacy.  It’s also beautifully written.   Anyone interested in intellectual history or the making of modern Europe will find this a deeply rewarding read." - James Shapiro, Professor of English at Columbia University, and author of 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear.

​“His erudition is enviable, and his lucid, effortless presentation exemplary.” 
John Pemble, joint winner of the Wolfson Prize for The Mediterranean Passion.

"It is the merit of the publishers E. E. Root to have devoted a whole series to the authoritative cultural historian Peter Burke." - Professor Michaela Valente, Sezione Notizie Archivio storico italiano. 

Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd.