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Robert Tombs

Forfatter af The English and Their History

13+ Works 931 Members 13 Reviews 1 Favorited

Om forfatteren

Robert Tombs is Reader in French History at the University of Cambridge, and Fellow and of St. John's College, Cambridge.

Includes the name: R.P. Tombs

Værker af Robert Tombs

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Kort biografi
Research Interests

Robert Tombs's main area of research has been nineteenth-century French political history in a broad sense, and especially popular political culture. He has been particularly concerned with the Paris Commune of 1871 and with French nationalism from the 1830s to 1914. His most recent work has been on the history of the relationship between the French and the British, from the end of the seventeenth century to the present day, including the cultural and economic as well as the political and military spheres.

He is presently finishing a book on the English and their past, but continues to work and publish on French history and on French attitudes to Britain.
Research Supervision

Franco-British relations since the eighteenth century. Most aspects of modern and contemporary French history, including politics and political ideas; cultural identities (national, gender, religious etc); cultural representations; war.

Modern European history in general (from 1789 to the present); with particular (though not necessarily research-based) interest in nationalism and revolution. He teaches a Part II specified subject, 'France and the British problem', which covers French attitudes and policies towards Britain over the past three centuries (online course material).

Key Publications
The War Against Paris 1871 (Cambridge: CUP, 1981), pp. 256.
Thiers 1797-1877: A Political Life, with J.P.T. Bury (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986), pp. 307.
Nationhood and Nationalism in France before the Great War (London: Harper Collins, 1991), pp. 286.
France 1814-1914 (London: Longman, 1996), pp. 590
La guerre contre Paris, 1871 (Paris: Aubier, 1997), pp. 380
The Paris Commune, 1871 (London: Longman, 1999) pp. 244
Cross-Channel Currents: 100 Years of the Entente Cordiale (London, Routledge, 2004), co-editor
That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present, with Isabelle Tombs (London: W. Heinemann, 2006) pp. 780
La France et le Royaume-Uni: Des ennemis intimes, with Isabelle Tombs (Paris, Armand Colin, 2012)
Britain and France in Two World Wars: Truth, Myth and Memory, ed. with Emile Chabal (London, Bloomsbury, 2013)




A comprehensive account of English History from earliest times to almost present day. Very enjoyable to listen to and contemplate.
charlie68 | 8 andre anmeldelser | Nov 24, 2022 |
"History, like travel, 'broadens the mind.' "

My fellow Americans could learn much from this.

Impressed at the breadth and clarity. Wonderful read for all.
btbell_lt | 8 andre anmeldelser | Aug 1, 2022 |
DNF pg.364. I had to stop reading due to all the revisionism. And the smug superiority. This isn't a history. It's propaganda and lies (okay, they're usually the same thing but in this case they're both the same and separate). The dismissal of events, the glossing over over of violence and deaths or the outright revamping the numbers downward, and he inclusion of certain people without explaining who they were or not including relevant people, and the deliberate lies and/or over simplification about why events happened just grated. This isn't history; it's a personal agenda to rewrite history to his own bias (a huge no-no among historians) to cover up certain events and truths while granting greater importance to minor or even trivial events. Like I said, propaganda.… (mere)
pacbox | 8 andre anmeldelser | Jul 9, 2022 |
"… what Milan Kundera called political kitsch, something the EU has been brilliant at creating. The reality is a rather cynical system in which some social groups, some interests and some countries gain hugely, and others lose hugely." (pg. 156)

When I read Robert Tombs' peerless The English and Their History last year, I wrote in my review that there had been plenty that had happened since its publication in 2014, not least Brexit. I wrote, however, that such events didn't date the book but instead seemed an extension of it, suggesting Tombs' analysis was fundamentally sound. When Brexit came, I wrote, you get the sense it wasn't a surprise to him.

And certainly, that's the case in This Sovereign Isle, Tombs' self-described "appendix" to The English and Their History (pg. vii). Continuing his refutation of the cultural orthodoxy of 'declinism' – the elitist view that England is a poky little country that should be ashamed of its past and hitch on to whatever supranational movement will take it – Tombs patiently outlines Britain's history with Europe and its 'odd couple' role vis-à-vis European centralization. The book then goes into a blow-by-blow narrative of the Brexit years – the referendum, Chequers, the outrageously-named "People's Vote", proroguing Parliament, all of that – and ends with speculation on Covid and where Britain may go next.

It is a lucid and welcome addition to the tapestry of English history Tombs wove in his earlier book. Brexit made historical, economic and political sense, not least because Britain has never been as weak as its post-war ruling class believes it is. Tombs describes the end of Britain's membership of the EU as the "denouement of a forty-year illusion" (pg. 58), showing how Britain has and will continue to be a global nation. The English and Their History took as one of its dominant themes the peculiar development of English liberty, the 'Magna Carta tradition' that sees the fundamental decisions made by the people and which the rulers obey, which is in complete contrast to the historical European tradition of monarchs, emperors and 'enlightened' elites shaping their countries, to which the people are merely called on to endorse after the fact (pg. 70). In his narrative of the Brexit years, Tombs is particularly alarmed by the extra-legal shenanigans undertaken to try and reverse the vote. This began with insulting but harmless denigration of Leavers (the Remainers' "monotonous pessimism… an ungenerosity of spirit towards the majority of their fellow countrymen, whom they hardly seemed to know and to whom they willingly ascribed the worst of motives. People proud of their open-minded cosmopolitanism seemed unable to sympathize with their neighbours" (pg. 95)) and ended chaotically, with Remainer elements seizing the reins of the Parliamentary agenda with the connivance of duplicitous ministers and a disgraced Speaker. This led to the absurd situation of opposition MPs and Remainer Tories rejecting government law and administration yet also refusing a vote of no confidence and a general election, the better to delay Britain's exit from the EU (pp121-2).

It is perhaps well for Tombs to write without venom of this contemptible display, but in my view the actions of this Shameful Parliament will go down as one of the most unedifying episodes in modern British history. It was unpleasant to witness at the time, and Tombs' narrative peters out almost in distaste and exhaustion, which is much the same as it felt for all of us who watched it unfold day by day. To learn, as an Englishman, that your vote may not matter – may be outright refused and gleefully circumvented by kept men – was an unprecedented experience. People outside England – and many inside it who don't know their own history – won't be able to realize how dangerous things became in that moment. As Tombs writes, this was, ironically, far more damaging to the UK than any economic uncertainty related to leaving or remaining in the EU (pg. 121).

Tombs does well to take the venom out of these years and write with a distinct lack of sensationalism in his prose. He writes critically of the EU's many failings, but never polemically, and when he notes that "economic fear has become the tightest bond of the European Union" (pg. 79), it's not done with any ideological glee. He points out that many voters are dissatisfied across the EU; the only difference is that Britain, with its strong trading links outside Europe and its provident refusal to commit to the single currency, was able to leave, in a way that the more unfortunate are not. Even the most committed Remainer, 'ashamed' of their country, wouldn't swap places with a Greek.

Tombs also writes that Britain, throughout its history, has never felt inclined to ally itself with the continental hegemon of the time ("It was the only major European state that never became an ally or a willing satellite of either Napoleon or Hitler" (pg. 19)), but such statements are never tub-thumping. Tombs writes that the EU corpocracy has always been hard on the poorest of its subject peoples: across all European countries, "wherever and whenever people had been allowed to vote, the working classes and the less privileged – the excluded, the unemployed and simply the less well off – voted against the EU" (pg. 61). The British were not possessed of any great foresight, integrity or national exceptionalism when they voted to Leave; discontent across Europe in the EU is such that "the British, paradoxically, voted as typical Europeans" (pg. 67). And, despite the efforts of the Shameful Parliament, they were in a position to actually act on such a vote.

Tombs' book is not without its flaws – or, rather, its missed opportunities. He correctly notes that one of the reasons the British establishment pursued European membership back in the Sixties and Seventies was that, racked by scandal and by its own decline (rather than the country's), such a top-down shackle on bottom-up forces in the country could "regild the prestige of its elite" (pg. 31). Outsourcing sovereignty could keep the grubby hands of the proles away from the levers of power. Tombs, however, does not bite at this dangerous piece, despite the material in question legitimising a class-based analysis (the Remainer dismissal of 'thick' Leaver 'bigots' who "didn't know what they were voting for"; the afore-mentioned objection of the working-classes across Europe to EU policies; the EU treatment of Ireland, Italy and particularly Greece almost as failed 19th-century colonies). Tombs lets it lie, instead making slightly confusing statements like "the idea that a deep and pre-existing cultural divide had been revealed by the 2016 referendum is an exaggeration" (pg. 77) and "the Brexit controversy did not expose a previously unrecognized gulf between two nations: it opened one" (pg. 96). For an author who weaved discussion of class so adroitly into his narrative in The English and Their History, and without rancour or ideology, this was a disappointment in This Sovereign Isle.

There are other minor missed opportunities. Tombs is reluctant to opine on prospects of Scottish independence (despite the popular narrative being that Brexit will lead to the end of the Union) and gets a bit soft-headed when discussing Covid (pg. 127). This is understandable, for any trained historian will have a natural aversion to opining with any authority on current events. There's an old joke in historians' circles where a professor is asked by a student, "What was the importance of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.?" To which the professor thinks for a moment and then replies, "It's too soon to say." Given such a necessarily circumspect attitude among those trained in the subject, it's understandable that Tombs doesn't want to be drawn too closely on events that are still developing.

That said, seeing the Brexit years put into a historical context, and by one of our most astute historians, is an education. Tombs – a bilingual Leave voter married to a Frenchwoman, coming from a social and academic background which is strongly pro-Remain – is no polemicist, no John Bull, and no opportunist. This is a sober, methodical and agenda-free attempt to make sense of some of the most turbulent years in post-war British history. It is not only a useful appendix to his masterful tome The English and Their History, which everyone should read, but a useful monograph in its own right. Tombs patiently refutes some of our most complacent narratives, not least that of British decline, and shines light on some basic analyses that are uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, such as EU mismanagement of its poorer societies, or Germany's disquieting and destabilising economic surplus with its neighbours (pg. 51), some of which seem little more than 19th-century vassal states. Tombs concludes that the dominant theme of the story is "perennial mistrust of democracy" (pg. 157), whether that is EU treatment of its subject peoples, the top-down pursuit of European integration by the elites at the expense of the poor, or Remainer and Parliamentary attempts (almost successful) to reverse the 2016 referendum vote. The British, at least as far as the European Union is concerned, have put the worst of that mistrust behind them. Far from retreating into nostalgia and reactionism, they have reasserted their democratic values and stolen a march on history. The rest of the Europeans seem not to have even begun to realize they have another fight against authoritarianism on their hands.
… (mere)
MikeFutcher | 1 anden anmeldelse | Nov 24, 2021 |


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