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John Bagnell Bury

John Bagnell BURY

(Clontibret, County Monaghan, 16 October 1861 – Rome, 1 June 1927)

Irish scholar; historian and philologist of Modern, Medieval, Roman and Byzantine periodsModern optimist, progressivist, freethinker, secular rationalist (laicist)

photo: Chancellor (~1900)

photo: Lafayette (1913/14)

photo – Walter Stoneman (1919)

Trinity College, Dublin

Cambridge University

photo – Walter Stoneman (1919)

Biography:

1861 − Birth on October 16th in Clontibret, County Monaghan.
1871-1878 − Made studies at Foyle College, in Derry.
1878 − Enters at Trinity College, in Dublin.
1879 − Is elected a scholar in classics at Trinity College, in Dublin.
1880 − Spends six months at the University of Göttingen, studying Sanscrit (under Benfey), Syriac and Hebrew.
Makes the first travel to Italy (September).
1882 − Presents a paper (April) on Browning’s Philosophy to the Browning Society, in London.
Gets a Graduation (in Classics, and Mental and Moral Philosophy), with honours, at Trinity College, in Dublin.
1883-1884 − Travels to Germany, Tyrol, and Belgium.
1885 − Is made a fellow at Trinity College, in Dublin.
Travels to Switzerland and North Italy.
1886 − Became a frequent contributor to the learned journals.
1887 − Learns Russian.
1889 − Publishes the two volumes of History of the Later Roman Empire.
1890 − Publishes The Nemian Odes of Pindar.
1891 − Publishes Anima Naturaliter Pagana; a Quest of the Imagination in The Fortnightly Review.
1892 − Publishes The Itshmian Odes of Pindar.
1893 − Publishes A History of the Roman Empire from its Foundation to the Death of Marcus Aurelius – 27 Bc.-180 Ad.
1893-1902 − Is received Professor of Modern History (Erasmus Smith’s chair) at Trinity College, in Dublin.
1898-1902 − Is received Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, in Dublin.

Trinity College – Dublin

 

1901 − Received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (DLL) from the University of Glasgow.
1902 − Received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Oxford.
Regius Professor of Modern History in Cambridge University, succeeding Lord Acton.
1903 − Inaugural Lecture at Cambridge University, where he stated that “history is a science, no less and no more…”, challenging its moral and literary approaches.
1907 (?) − Received as Honorary Member of the Rationalist Press Association (RPA)
19– − Elected a fellow of King’s College, in Cambridge University.

King’s College – Cambridge

1014 − Starts regular contributions to the R.P.A. Anual
1923 − Co-founder and first President of the Cambridge Historical Society.
1923-1927 − Member of the Editorial Board of the Cambridge Historical Journal.
1927 − Died on June 1st. in Rome.

John Bagnell Bury received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Durham.

Oxford

Edimburg

Glasgow

Aberdeen

Durham

Bibliography:

An exhaustive LIST OF J. B. BURY’s WORKS can be found in:

Norman H. BAYNES – A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WORKS OF J. B. BURY. Cambridge, University Press, 1929.

ΛΑΜΠΑΔΙΑ ΕΧΟΝΤΕΣ ΔΙΑΔΩΣΟΥΣΙΝ ΑΛΛΗΛΟΙΣ

[ he who has the torch, passes it on to others ]

Prometheus – Rubens – sketch (1636)

Prometheus – Jean Cossiers (1637)

A HISTORY OF THE LATER ROMAN EMPIRE FROM ARCADIUS TO IRENE (2 volumes), London, Macmillan & Co., 1889
THE NEMEAN ODES OF PINDAR, London, Macmillan & Co., 1890
ANIMA NATURALITER PAGANA; A QUEST OF THE IMAGINATION – in: THE FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, N.S. XLIX, 1891, (pp.102-112)


It is a commonplace with critics that the creative faculty in literature is well-nigh exhausted, and that all works produced nowadays are merely variations on old motives and modifications of old ideas. … Yet it might be plausibly argued that to understand what is really old requires a powerful imagination as to invent what is really new. Perhaps, indeed, both tasks are impossible, if “new” in the one case and “understand” in the other be taken in the strictest sense. … [p.102]

[John Bagnell Bury – 1891]

3 Graces . roman

Germain Pilon (1561)

publicity – Kestos (1938)

 

THE ISTHMIAN ODES OF PINDAR, London, MacMillan & Co,, 1892.
A HISTORY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE FROM ITS FOUNDATION TO THE DEATH OF MARCUS AURELIUS – 27 BC.-180 AD. London, Macmillan & Co., 1893
(edition) Edward GIBBON, THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. London,, Macmillan & Co. (12 volumes), 1896-1900
A HISTORY OF GREECE TO THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT. London, Macmillan & Co., 1900
AN INAUGURAL LECTURE: THE SCIENCE OF HISTORY, Cambridge, University Press, 1903; republished in Harold TEMPERLEYSELECTED ESSAYS OF J. B. BURY, Cambridge, University Press, 1930 (pp.3-22)


… if, year by year, history is to become a more and more powerful force for stripping the bandages of error from the eyes of men, for shaping public opinion and advancing the cause of intellectual and political liberty, she will best prepare her disciples for the performance of that task, not by considering the immediate utility of next week or next year or next century, not by accommodating her ideal or limiting her range, but by remembering always that, though she may supply material for literary art or philosophical speculation, she is herself simply a science, no less and no more. [p.41]

[John Bagnell Bury – 1903]

Clio – Hendrik Goltzius (1592)

1903 – 1st edition (front page)

1930 – 1st edition (front page)

 

THE PLACE OF MODERN HISTORY IN THE PERSPECTIVE OF KNOWLEDGE – paper presented to the Congress of Arts and Science at the Universal Exposition of St. Louis, 1904; in Howard J. ROGERS, CONGRESS OF ARTS AND SCIENCE (volume II), Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1906 (pp.243-152); republished in Harold TEMPERLEYSELECTED ESSAYS OF J. B. BURY, Cambridge, University Press, 1930 (pp.43-59)


… Political development in the chronicle of a society, or set of societies, is correlated with other developments which are not political; the concrete history of a society is the collective history of all its various activities, all the manifestations of its intellectual, emotional, and material life. We isolate these manifestations for the purpose of analysis, as the physiologist can concentrate his attention on a single organ apart from the rest of the body; but we must not forget that political history out of relation to the whole social development of which it is a part is not less unmeaning than the heart detached from the body. … [p.142]

[John Bagnell Bury – 1904]

Athena (~470 B.C.)

1906 – 1st edition (front page)

1930 – 1st edition (front page)

THE LIFE OF ST. PATRICK AND HIS PLACE IN HISTORY. London,, Macmillan & Co., 1905
HISTORY OF GREECE FOR BEGINNERS. London,, Macmillan & Co.
THE ANCIENT GREEK HISTORIANS (Harvard Lectures). London, Macmillan & Co., 1909
DARWINISM AND HISTORY – in A. C. SEWARDDARWIN AND MODERN SCIENCE; ESSAYS IN COMMEMORATION OF THE BIRTH OF CHARLES DARWIN AND OF THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PUBLICATION OF THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. Cambridge, University Press, 1909 (pp.529-542); republished in: Ernst HAECKEL, Arthur THOMSON, August WEISMANN, and others – EVOLUTION IN MODERN THOUGHT, Modern Library, Boni and Liveright, Inc., New York. s/d. 1926 (pp.246-263); republished in Harold TEMPERLEYSELECTED ESSAYS OF J. B. BURY, Cambridge, University Press, 1930 (pp.23-42)


… The “historical” conception of nature, which has produced the history of the solar system, the story of the earth, the genealogies of telluric organisms, and has revolutionised natural science, belongs to the same order of thought as the conception of human history as a continuous, genetic, causal process – a conception which has revolutionised historical research and made it scientific. … [p.529]

… In the first quarter of the nineteenth century the meaning of genetic history was fully realised. “Genetic” perhaps is as good a word as can be found for the conception which in this century was applied to so many branches of knowledge in the spheres both of nature and of mind. It does not commit us to the doctrine proper of evolution, nor yet to any teleological hypothesis such as is implied in “progress”. … [p.531]

… “Progress” involves a judgment of value, which is not involved in the conception of history as a genetic process. It is also an idea distinct from that of evolution. Nevertheless it is closely related to the ideas which revolutionised history at the beginning of the last century; it swam into men’s ken simultaneously; and it helped effectively to establish the notion of history as a continuous process and to emphasise the significance of time. Passing over earlier anticipations, … it was the political changes in the eighteenth century which led to the doctrine … that the masses are the most important element in the historical process. … the predominant importance of the masses was the assumption which made it possible to apply evolutional principles to history. …
The assimilation of society to an organism, … and the conception of progress, combined to produce the idea of an organic development, in which the historian has to determine the central principle or leading character. … [p.532]

… The genetic principle, progressive development, general laws, the significance of time, the conception of society as an organic aggregate, the metaphysical theory of history as the self-evolution of spirit, – all these ideas show that historical inquiry had been advancing independently on somewhat parallel lines to the sciences of nature. It was necessary to bring this out in order to appreciate the influence of Darwinism. …
In the course of the dozen years which elapsed between the appearances of The Origin of Species … and of The Descent of Man (1871), the hypothesis … that man is the co-descendant with other species of some lower extinct form was admitted to have been raised to the rank of an established fact by most thinkers whose brains were not working under the constraint of theological authority. … The prevailing doctrine that man was created ex abrupto had placed history in an isolated position, disconnected with the sciences of nature. Anthropology, which deals with the animal anthropos, now comes into line with zoology, and brings it into relation with history. … Man’s condition at the present day is the result of a series of transformations, going back to the most primitive phase of society, which is the ideal (unattainable) beginning of history. …
… The perspective of history is merged in a larger perspective of development. As one of the objects of biology is to find the exact steps in the genealogy of man from the lowest organic form, so the scope of history is to determine the stages in the unique causal series from the most rudimentary to the present state of human civilisation. … [p.534-535]

… The success of the evolutional theory helped to discredit the assumption or at least the invocation of transcendent causes.
Philosophically of course it is compatible with theism, but historians have for the most part desisted from invoking the naive conception of a “god in history” to explain historical movements. A historian may be a theist; but, so far as his work is concerned, this particular belief is otiose. Otherwise indeed … history could not be a science; for with a deus ex machina who can be brought on the stage to solve difficulties scientific treatment is a farce. [536]

… From the more general influence of Darwinism on the place of history in the system of human knowledge, we may turn to the influence of the principles and methods by which Darwin explained development. … The investigations of Darwin, which brought them into the foreground, naturally promoted attempts to discover in them the chief key to the growth of civilisation. … the Darwinian theory made it tempting to explain the development of civilisation in terms of “adaptation to environment”, “struggle for existence”, “natural selection”, “survival of the fittest”, etc.
The operation of these principles cannot be denied. … Environment and climatic influence must be called in to explain not only the differentiation of the great racial sections of humanity, but also the varieties within these sub-species and, it may be, the assimilation of distinct varieties. … But on the other hand, it is urged that, in explaining the course of history, these principles do not take us very far … The development of human societies, it may be argued, derives a completely new character from the dominance of the conscious psychical element, creating as it does new conditions (inventions, social institutions, etc.) which limit and counteract the operation of natural selection, and control and modify the influence of physical environment. [537]

… The idea … that history could be assimilated to the natural sciences was powerfully reinforced, and the notion that the actual historical process, and every social movement involved in it, can be accounted for by sociological generalisations, so-called “laws”, is still entertained by many, in one form or another.
Dissentients from this view do not deny that the generalisations at which the sociologist arrives by the comparative method, by the analysis of social factors, and by psychological deduction may be an aid to the historian; but they deny that such uniformities are laws or contain an explanation of the phenomena. … But it may be urged that it is patent on the face of history that its course has constantly been shaped and modified by the wills of individuals,which are by no means always the expression of the collective will; and that the appearance of such personalities at the given moments is not a necessary outcome of the conditions and cannot be deduced. [537-538]

… The truth is that Darwinism itself offers the best illustration of the insufficiency of general laws to account for historical development. The part played by coincidence, and the part played by individuals – limited by, and related to, general social conditions – render it impossible to deduce the course of the past history of man or to predict the future. But it is just the same with organic development. Darwin (or any other zoologist) could not deduce the actual course of evolution from general principles. [539]

[John Bagnell Bury – 1909]


March of Progress [The Road to Homo Sapiens] – Rudy Zallinger (1965)

1909

(1926)

1930 – 1st edition (front page)

 

A HISTORY OF THE EASTERN ROMAN EMPIRE FROM THE FALL OF IRENE TO THE ACCESSION OF BASIL I (A. D. 802-867), London, Macmillan & Co., 1912
A HISTORY OF FREEDOM OF THOUGHT. University Library; London, Williams and Norgate. s/d [1913]

xxx

THE IDEA OF PROGRESS; AN INQUIRY ON ITS ORIGINS AND GROWTH. London, Macmillan & Co, 1920.

 

1920 – 1st ed. (front page)

1928 – 3rd ed. (dust cover)

1932 – 1st ed. USA (dust cover)

(…)

The idea of human progress (…) is a theory which involves a synthesis of the past and a prophecy of the future. It is based on an interpretation of history which regards men as slowly advancing (…) in a definite and desirable direction, and infers that this progress will continue indefinitely.

[John Bagnell Bury – 1920]

 

A HISTORY OF THE LATER ROMAN EMPIRE FROM THE DEATH OF THEODOSIUS I TO THE DEATH OF JUSTINIAN.
(with E.A. BARBER, Edwyn BEVAN, and W.W. TARN), THE HELLENISTIC AGE: ASPECTS OF HELLENISTIC CIVILIZATION, Cambridge, University Press, 1923
THE INVASION OF EUROPE BY THE BARBARIANS.
HISTORY OF THE PAPACY IN THE 19TH CENTURY (1864–1878).
Harold TEMPERLEY (edition) – SELECTED ESSAYS OF J. B. BURY. Cambridge, University Press, 1930.

About the personality, the life, and the works of John Bagnell BURY:

A DISTINGUISHED HISTORIAN OF TRINITY COLLEGE; A Letter from Dublin – in: The Sphere, September 29, 1900, p.404
G. SARTONTHE IDEA OF PROGRESS BY JOHN BAGNELL BURY in: ISIS, vol. 4, nº 2 (october 1921) pp.373-375 – The History of Science Society, University of Chicago Press, 1921
J. P. WHITNEY (and J. B. BURY) – THE LATE PROFESSOR J. B. BURY – in: CAMBRIDGE HISTORICAL JOURNAL, vol.2, no.2, Cambridge, University Press, 1927
Michael TIERNEYJ. B. BURY: HELENIST AND HISTORIAN – in: STUDIES: AN IRISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, Vol.18, nº72, pp.597-606.
Harold TEMPERLEYTHE HISTORICAL IDEAS OF J. B. BURY Introduction to: SELECTED ESSAYS OF J. B. BURY, Cambridge University Press, 1930.
Alexander NAIRNEJ. B. BURY – in: JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES, vol.31, nº124, (July, 1930), pp.388-402.
Michael OAKESHOTTIDEAS OF THE PAST; REALITY AND EXPLANATION. in EXPERIENCE AND MODES; THE WORLD OF HISTORY, Cambridge, University Press, 1933
R. G. COLLINGWOODBURY – in: SCIENTIFIC HISTORY – in: THE IDEA OF HISTORY, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1946.
Arthur MARWICKTHE DEVELOPMENT OF HISTORICAL STUDIES IN THE END OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY; THE END OF THE CENTURY – in: THE NATURE OF HISTORY, chapter 2.5, 1977
Arnaldo MOMIGLIANOA PIEDMONTESE VIEW OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS – in: ESSAYS IN ANCIENT AND MODERN HISTORIOGRAPHY, Chicago, University Press, 1977; originally published as NATIONAL VERSIONS OF AN INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON – in: Times Literary Supplement nº 3690, 24 November 1972
George HUXLEYTHE HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP OF JOHN BAGNELL BURY – in: GREEK, ROMAN AND BYZANTINE STUDIES, Vol.17, nº1, 1976
Doris S. GOLDSTEINJ. B. BURY’S PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY: A REAPRAISAL – in: The American Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 4, (Oct. 1977), pp. 896-919

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