Calling the LazyWeb

I’m looking for a good book or two (or even an article) on a somewhat complicated topic. What I’m curious about is the intellectual history of specifically British contemplations of constitutionalism or common law in the 19th and 20th Century. I know some of the classic “primary texts” to look at, but I’m just curious about whether anyone has studied a more dispersed, general British consciousness on these subjects in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, about how British intellectuals and the general public imagined constitutionalism and common law around that time.

I know, it’s a rather convoluted request. But I’d be grateful to anybody who’s got a direction to point me towards.

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11 Responses to Calling the LazyWeb

  1. SamChevre says:

    The book that comes to my mind is Churchill’s “History of the English-Speaking People.” It is a popular book, and it’s definitely taking a side in the argument–but the development of English institutions and English common law is one of its main themes.

  2. Ben P says:

    Goodness. Funny you asked. I did a Ph.D. field in modern British history.

    I’d definetly recommend:

    After Chartism – Margot Finn

    The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain – Jonathan Parry

    Liberty, Retrenchment, Reform: Popular Liberalism in the Age of Gladstone – Eugenio Biagini

    Defining the Nation: Class, Race, and Gender after the 1867 Reform Act – edited by Catherine Hall

    There are others I could recommend if you make a more specific request.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    The Hall I knew about; the Finn I’d read a bazillion years ago, but the reminder is useful. Didn’t know the Parry or the Biagini, those sound terrific.

    The background to this is that I’m trying to think about the intellectual history standing behind British anthropologists, government officials, travellers and others in colonial Africa who are trying to interpret or describe African political institutions, particularly those who argued in some form or another that some African societies had implicit or “common law” constitutions. To some extent, what I want to figure out is when these observers are perceiving such “constitutionalisms” or similar analogues through a particularly British (or at least Anglo-American) historical lens.

  4. Ben P says:

    Some other books to consider are, with particular attention to imperialism:

    Ideologies of the Raj – Thomas Metcalf
    About British governance in India – and their relationship to Conservative (with a capital “C”) and Liberal (with a capital “L”) thought

    The Ideological Origins of the British Empire – David Armitage
    This covers ground from a bit earlier, but it is important work of intellectual history.

    Ornamentalism – David Cannadine
    Might be a bit thin, but its a quick read and provides some interesting ideas.

    Biagini and Parry are very good if you want to understand the social and intellectual basis of liberal ideological hegemony in Victorian Britain. Parry deals more with high politics and business and military elites. Biagini deals with liberalism’s appeal to elements of the working class.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Armitage is very useful, I’ve been working with it a good deal–I was just trying to think about the metropolitan history independently. Metcalf I haven’t read for ages, thanks for the reminder. Cannadine is also very thought-provoking at a number of points in the argument I’m crafting about indirect rule.

  6. sarahbeth says:

    I actually did some research last year on just this, but from a slightly different angle (mostly the development of “constitutionalism” and historiography in Oxbridge). Some of these you’ve probably covered already, but I figured I’d list them anyway.

    Blaas, P.B.M., Continuity and Anachronism: Parliamentary and Constitutional
    Development in Whig Historiography and the Anti-Whig Reaction
    between 1890 and 1930 (The Hague, 1978).

    Burrow, J.W., A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past (Cambridge, 1981).

    Butterfield, Herbert, The Whig Interpretation of History (New York, 1931).

    Freeman, E.A., The Norman Conquest of England, Its Causes and Its Results (6 vols., 1867-1879).

    Green, J.R., History of the English People (4 vols., London, 1877).

    Stubbs, William, Constitutional History of England (2 vols., Oxford, 1873).

    — Select Charters, rev. ed. (Oxford, 1895).

    The 2nd edition of J.C. Holt’s “Magna Carta” also has an introduction that touches on the development of the English constitution from the 16th century through the 19th.

    F.W. Maitland wrote a good deal about the development of the English constitution and serves as a sort of counterpoint to the Oxford School of Stubbs, Freeman, Green and, to a lesser extent, Norgate. Freeman particularly has some things (often not too nice) to say about the inhabitants of the 19th century colonies.

  7. Timothy Burke says:

    That’s awesomely useful, thanks.

  8. Rob MacD says:

    This is a little tangential to “constitutionalism”, but I really liked the book: Jonathan Agar’s The Government Machine, despite the subtitle (a history of the computer) is really about conceptions of and metaphors used to describe the British government and civil service in the 19th and early 20th century. The book probably doesn’t hit what you need dead on, but I’ll bet the books Agar cites would be handy.

  9. Endie says:

    Bear in mind that there is no strictly “British” realm of constitutional or common law in the 19th century. England had, and has, a common-law system, while Scotland has Scots law, a mixed system with both codified and common law elements, influenced much more strongly by Roman law, and with substantial constitutional differences. Substantial differences remain between the two systems, even post-Treaty of Rome.

  10. Timothy Burke says:

    Yes. I’m interested more in popular perceptions of law and constitutionalism during this time, period, however, and those weren’t so strictly organized. Particularly in the colonial contexts which are my ultimate concern–certainly there were plenty of Scots involved in colonial Africa who may have had general ideas about “law” and “constitutions” that derived from a general 19th Century “British” context.

  11. Mary Catherine Moran says:

    Yeah, you definitely don’t want to go far into a specifically Scottish understanding of civil versus common law: for your purposes, I suspect, that way lies madness.

    I take it you’ve read up on Burke (that other Burke, I mean) versus Hastings re: the impeachment of Hastings re: his role in the governship of Bengal? Burke argued eloquently, and at great length, for some sort of common law understanding of the customs, mores, laws and etc., of “the Indian miilions.”
    And since Hastings was acquitted, I guess it’s fair to say that Burke lost. But the arguments he put forth (based in no insignificant measure on his reading of the Scots: but how far do you want to go there?) would probably put you on the right track in terms of nineteenth-century developments.

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