Citations and Speeches

Citations

54th Congregation (1961)

Herbert BUTTERFIELD
M.A., Hon.D.Lit., Hon.LL.D., Hon.D.Litt., Hon.Litt.D.

Professor Herbert Butterfield, for many years Fellow, then Master, of Peterhouse, and now Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, is one of his University's most distinguished sons. As Professor of Modern History he has exercised, from his Cambridge Chair, a wide and beneficent influence upon the whole world of modern historical scholarship. This he has done, and continues to do, mainly through a series of writings marked always by great intellectual candour, by a challenging boldness of enquiry, and withal by an underlying humility.

The impressive list of his publications provides, indeed, an excellent illustration of the truth that the great historian is equally at home with the miscroscope and with the telescope. Microscopically, Professor Butter-field has made a close study of such curious historical creatures as Machiavelli and King George III. Telescopically, he has raised his sights to survey, with cairn detachment the whole drama of modern history, bringing into especially clear focus the scientific and religious foundations of the stage upon which that drama is set.

Nor has he shirked from the larger issues that inevitably arise from a wide study of human history. He has not hesitated to challenge the unspoken assumptions which historians tend too easily to take for granted. In particular he has waged a lengthy war against what is called the Whig interpretation of history; the tendency, that is, to explain the past in terms of the present, to assurm that men and causes succeed because they are good, or alternatively that they are good because they succeed.

If it be true that one of the most essential items of equipment for the modern historian is a stout pair of boots (rather than an easy Chair), Professor Butterfield has used them not only as a lone climber in the high peaks of the philosophy of history, but also on lower levels of activity as the energetic guide and companion of fellow teachers and students of history everywhere. It was therefore particularly appropriate that in 1956, the year of its jubilee celebrations in England, the Historical Association - including as it does the professional student, the school and university teacher, and the general reader of history - should have had this generous and humane scholar as its President.

Every age has to work out its own relation to the achievements of the past and to the potentialities of the future. Herbert Butterfield as much as any man, has helped our own age in this task, and today this University is proud to honour him for it.

Citation written and delivered by Dr the Hon. A. M. Rodrigues, Chairman of the Jubilee Committee.