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Cornering the Cheshire cat: reflections on the 'new British history' and studies in early modern British identities

Faculty Advisor




British history, British identities, Cheshire cat, British Isles, British historians, Britishness, national identities in Britain, Lewis Carroll's Alice, rabbit hole

Abstract (summary)

Historians courageous enough to explore and begin to unravel the challenging subjects of "Britishness" and identifies should be congratulated for taking on the task. Yet, when considering these subjects -- the "New British history" and the Cheshire cat-like qualifies of national identifies -- one cannot but be reminded of Lewis Carroll's Alice who, by chance and choice, falls down the rabbit hole "never once considering how in the world she was to get out again." And like Alice, historians of "Britishness" and national identifies continue on down a similar ambiguous path, a path which "dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well." Nevertheless, the study of British identities has recently enjoyed considerable scholarly attention and an emerging and voluminous historiography reveals to even the casual observer that this is a busy historiographical building site, a building site which has drawn heavily on the materiel, labour and tools of related academic disciplines. While we have reservations about the edifice -- a Tower of Babel -- that is being constructed, there can be no doubt this "hard-hat area" has uncovered some important findings which need to be recognised and acknowledged by British historians as beneficial m helping us fulfil, in a slightly different context, Peter Laslett's goal of "understanding ourselves in time."

Publication Information

J.R.D. Falconer, "Cornering the Cheshire Cat: Reflections on the ‘New British History’ and studies in Early Modern British Identities” co-authored with Richard Connors, Canadian Journal of History, XXXVI (April 2001), pp. 85-108.



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