An illiberal descent: natural and national history in the work of Charles Kingsley

Conlin, Jonathan (2011) An illiberal descent: natural and national history in the work of Charles Kingsley. History, 96, (322), 167-187. (doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.2011.00513.x).


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The Victorian novelist, historian and cleric Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) was a polymath who took a close interest in natural history. A friend and correspondent of T. H. Huxley and many other leading British and American biologists, Kingsley applied concepts familiar from evolutionary biology in his historical novels and lectures. Rather than a straightforward case of dressing literary works in language made fashionable and exciting by the boom of post-Darwinian speculation on evolution, Kingsley sought to construct a ‘Natural Theology’ for the Victorian age, one in which natural and national history merged completely. This encouraged him to present the history of Britain as the history of a divinely-favoured Teutonic race, one with a mission to subdue the world. Less favoured races were doomed to assimilation into this race or to complete annihilation. Such racialist thinking was, this essay suggests, not unusual in Victorian historical writing. Accounts of Victorian historiography structured around the professionalisation of a new discipline of history may have caused us to overlook 'amateurs' such as Kingsley, despite the fact that their historical works remained popular well into the twentieth century.

Item Type: Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): doi:10.1111/j.1468-229X.2011.00513.x
ISSNs: 1468-229X (electronic)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Humanities > History
ePrint ID: 180835
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
15 April 2011Published
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2011 14:30
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 13:35

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