Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-56f9d74cfd-nww4m Total loading time: 0.361 Render date: 2022-06-25T15:05:57.011Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2016

Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Freie Universität Berlin E-mail:


The Victorian historian E. A. Freeman (1823–92), following Thomas Arnold, promoted the innovative idea of the “unity of history,” according to which history was a linked, recurring cycle without the artificial boundary of periods. In recent research, however, it is little noticed that, along with this “unity” theory, Freeman also emphasized the ruptures and the divisions in history. It is even less noticed that Freeman devised a unique periodization, which abolished AD 476 as the date marking the fall of Rome. Thus the very idea of the “unity of history” seems to contradict the use of periods. The former stressed a historical continuum while the latter denoted historical ruptures. This article argues that Freeman's notion of “race” could, in most cases, solve the apparent tension between these two “divergent” ideas (unity versus periods). Nevertheless, it is also argued that in some exceptional cases Freeman identified other factors besides race (e.g. religion) as transforming the innate racial belonging and the predestined course of history.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


* I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Simon J. Cook for his advice and constructive comments. I also wish to thank Oliver Zimmer (Oxford University) for his comments on earlier drafts. This article was written thanks to the generous support of the joint post-doctoral fellowship of the Freie Universität, Berlin and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. I also wish to acknowledge the support of the European Forum and the Faculty of History at the Hebrew University.


1 Burrow, John, A Liberal Descent: Victorian Historians and the English Past (Cambridge, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Parker, C. J. W., “The Failure of Liberal Racialism: The Racial Ideas of E. A. Freeman,” Historical Journal, 24/4 (1981), 825–46;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Momigliano, A. D., “Liberal Historian and Supporter of the Holy Roman Empire: E. A. Freeman,” in Bowersock, G. W. and Cornell, T. G., eds., A. D. Momigliano Studies on Modern Scholarship (Berkeley, 1994), 197208;Google Scholar Hesketh, Ian, The Science of History in Victorian Britain (London, 2012);Google Scholar Lake, Marilyn, “‘Essentially Teutonic’: E. A. Freeman, Liberal Race Historian. A Transnational Perspective,” in Hall, Catherine and McClelland, Keith, eds., Race, Nation and Empire: Making Histories, 1750 to the Present (Manchester, 2010), 5673;Google Scholar Walton, Susan, “Charlotte M. Yonge and the ‘Historic Harem’ of Edward Augustus Freeman,” Journal of Victorian Culture, 11/2 (2006), 226–55;Google Scholar Brundage, Anthony L. and Cosgrove, Richard A., “Edward Augustus Freeman: Liberal Democracy and National Identity,” in Brundage and Cosgrove, British Historians and National Identity: From Hume to Churchill (London, 2014), 95108.Google Scholar

2 Vicky Morrisroe shows that Freeman, heavily influenced by Thomas Arnold and the comparative theories of Henry Maine, E. B. Tylor and Max Müller, presented a meta-historical view that identified the universal cycles of Aryan institutions and events. Yet while Morrisroe presents a persuasive interpretation of Arnold's and Freeman's universal historical vision, she has little or nothing to say about the tension between Freeman's idea of unity and his use of periods. See Morrisroe, Vicky, “‘Sanguinary Amusement’: E. A. Freeman, the Comparative Method and Victorian Theories of Race,” Modern Intellectual History, 10/1 (2013), 2756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, J. B., with an Introduction by Lecky, W. E. H., 12 vols. (New York, 1906), 1: liiGoogle Scholar.

4 Freeman, Edward A. and Evans, Arthur J., The History of Sicily from the Earliest Times, 4 vols. (Oxford, 1891).Google Scholar

5 In a recent article by Kelley, HOS does receive some attention. Nevertheless, Kelley's focus is on Freeman's perception of the “Eastern Question” rather on his periodization. See Kelley, William, “Past History and Present Politics: E. A. Freeman and the Eastern Question,” in Bremner, G. A. and Conlin, Jonathan, eds., Making History: Edward Augustus Freeman and Victorian Cultural Politics (Oxford, 2015), 119–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 126–8.

6 Momigliano, Arnaldo D., “Two Types of Universal History: The Cases of E. A. Freeman and Max Weber,” Journal of Modern History, 58/1 (1986), 235–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 237. During the 1840s, Freeman was also attracted to the ideas of the Oxford Movement. Momigliano argues that Freeman's final detachment from the Oxford Movement was due to Arnold's writings, which “showed the young Freeman a way out” of Catholicism. See Momigliano, “Liberal Historian,” 199; Bryce, James, Studies in Contemporary Biography (London, 1903)Google Scholar, 264 n. For the early influence on Freeman by both Arnold and the founder of the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman, also see Bremner, G. A. and Conlin, Jonathan, “History as Form: Architecture and Liberal Anglican Thought in E. A. Freeman,” Modern Intellectual History, 8/2 (2011), 299326CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 306–8.

7 Freeman, Edward A., The Unity of History: The Rede Lecture Delivered in the Senate-House before the University of Cambridge on Friday, May 24, 1872 (London, 1872)Google Scholar.

8 Ibid., 11, 43.

9 Freeman, Edward A., Thoughts on the Study of History, With Reference to the Proposed Changes in the Public Examinations (Oxford, 1849)Google Scholar.

10 Herman Paul, “Habits of Thought and Judgment: E. A. Freeman on Historical Methods,” in Bremner and Conlin, Making History, 273–89, at 282–7.

11 In 1872, a Syndicate at Cambridge suggested a revision of the Historical Tripos in order to study ancient, medieval and modern subjects so that they “will be placed before the student as a whole.” See “Report,” Cambridge University Reporter, 18 Dec. 1872, 131–6.

12 Corfield, Penelope J., Time and the Shape of History (New Haven and London, 2007), 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 Freeman, Edward A., The Chief Periods of European History: Six Lectures Read in the University of Oxford (London and New York, 1886), 95.Google Scholar In this book, at 74–6, Freeman also took issue with Edward Gibbon's periodization.

14 Pirenne famously argued that the Arab invasions of the seventh century had formed a breach in the Mediterranean, the Roman mare nostrum, and thus “broke” the economic unity of the Roman world. See Pirenne, Henri, Mohammed and Charlemagne (London, 1939);Google Scholar Barraclough, Geoffrey, “Medium Aevum: Some Reflections on Medieval History and on the Term ‘The Middle Ages,’” in Barraclough, History in a Changing World (Oxford, 1955), 5463Google Scholar.

15 The anthropologist James Hunt declared in 1863 that “hardly two persons use such an important word as ‘race’ in the same sense.” Cited in Morrisroe,“Sanguinary Amusement,” 29.

16 Banton, Michael, The Idea of Race (London, 1977), 8Google Scholar.

17 Mosse, George L., Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism (London, 1978), 39;Google Scholar Manias, Chris, Race, Science, and the Nation: Reconstructing the Ancient Past in Britain, France and Germany (London, 2013), 2340CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Burrow, John, “The Uses of Philology in Victorian England,” in Robson, R., ed., Ideas and Institutions of Victorian Britain: Essays in Honour of George Kitson Clark (London, 1967), 180204Google Scholar, at 199–200.

19 Freeman, Edward A., “Race and Language,” in Freeman, Historical Essays, Third Series (London, 1879)Google Scholar.

20 Cook, Simon J., “The Making of the English: English History, British Identity, Aryan Villages, 1870–1914,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 75/4 (2014), 629–49CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed, at 633–9.

21 Duncan Bell, “Alter Orbis: E. A. Freeman on Empire and Racial Destiny,” in Bremner and Conlin, Making History, 217–35, at 230–35.

22 Parker, “The Failure of Liberal Racialism,” 825–46.

23 Lake, “Essentially Teutonic,” 60–61.

24 Morrisroe, “Sanguinary Amusement,” 27–56.

25 G. A. Bremner and Johnathan Conlin, “1066 and All That: Freeman and the Importance of being Memorable,” in Bremner and Conlin, Making History, 3–28, at 22–6.

26 Müller to Freeman, 1 June 1870, Freeman papers, MSS FA1/7/592, John Rylands Library (hereafter JRUL).

27 Freeman, “Race and Language,” 183.

28 In a letter to the famous geologist and palaeontologist Sir William Boyd Dawkins, Freeman described the “Blacks” as physically inferior, while referring to his own Aryan supremacy: “The really queer thing is the niggers who swarm here; my Aryan prejudices go against them.” See Freeman to Dawkins, 15–16 Oct. 1881, in Stephens, W. R. W., The Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2 vols. (London, 1895), 2Google Scholar: 234.

29 “The Jews must be very nearly, if not absolutely, a pure race, in a sense in which no European nation is pure. The blood remains untouched by conversion; it remains untouched even by intermarriage. The Jew may be sure of his own stock, in a way in which none of the rest of us, Dutch, Welsh, or anything else, can be sure.” See Freeman, “Race and Language,” 230.

30 Freeman, HOS, 2: 22–3.

31 Creighton to Freeman, 5 March 1885, Freeman papers, MSS FA1/7/122A, JRUL.

32 Freeman, Edward A., The Methods of Historical Study: Eight Lectures Read in the University of Oxford in Michaelmas Term 1884 (London, 1886), 190Google Scholar.

33 Harrison, Frederic, “Historical Method of Professor Freeman,” Nineteenth Century, 44/261 (1898), 791806Google Scholar, at 794.

34 Round, J. Horace, “Historical Research,” Nineteenth Century, 44/262 (1898), 1004–14Google Scholar, at 1011–12.

35 Stubbs, William, Seventeen Lectures on the Study of Medieval and Modern History and Kindred Subjects (Oxford, 1887), 15.Google Scholar

36 Ibid., 18.

37 Stubbs, William, The Constitutional History of England in Its Origin and Development (Oxford, 1874)Google Scholar.

38 Green, John R., “Professor Stubbs's Inaugural Lecture,” Saturday Review, 23/592 (1867), 278–80Google Scholar.

39 Ibid., 280.

40 Bryce to Freeman, 13 April 1873, Bryce papers, 9, 27, Bodleian Library (hereafter Bod.).

41 Bryce, James, “Freeman's Historical Essays,” Saturday Review, 35/912 (1873), 521.Google Scholar

42 Freeman to Bryce, 19 Jan. 1874, Bryce Papers, 6, 59, Bod.

43 Freeman, The Methods of Historical Study, 192.

44 Ibid.,194.

45 Burrow, A Liberal Descent, 113–22; Mandler, Peter, The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven and London, 2006), 86–7Google Scholar.

46 Freeman, Edward A., History of Europe, ed. Green, J. R. (London, 1876), 910Google Scholar.

47 Freeman, Edward A., The Historical Geography of Europe (London, 1881), 88Google Scholar; Freeman, Western Europe in the Eighth Century and Onward: An Aftermath (London, 1904), 12–13.

48 Freeman to Bryce, 14 June 1885, Bryce Papers, 7, 162, Bod.

49 One should also mention John Mitchell Kemble (1807–57) and Francis Palgrave (1788–1861), who also wrote during the same years about the tribal contribution to modernity. However, Arnold linked the tribes with modernity in the most explicit way. See Arnold, Thomas, Introductory Lectures on Modern History, with the Inaugural Lecture Delivered in Dec. 1841, 4th edn (London, 1849;Google Scholar first published 1843), 1–60.

50 Already in the middle of the eighteenth century, Voltaire defined modern history as the era “since the decay of the Roman Empire.” See Gerhard, Dietrich, “Periodization in History,” in Wiener, Philip P., ed., Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, vol. 3 (New York, 1973), 476–81, at 477Google Scholar.

51 Arnold, Introductory Lectures, 23–31.

52 Morrisroe, “Sanguinary Amusement,” 39.

53 Arnold, Thomas, History of Rome, vol. 1 (London, 1857Google Scholar; first published 1838), vii–viii; Thomas Arnold to Justice Coleridge, 6 Feb. 1937, in Arnold, Thomas and Stanley, Arthur P., The Life and Correspondence of Thomas Arnold, vol. 2 (Boston, 1860Google Scholar; first published 1844), 73.

54 Freeman, Edward A., “Mommsen's History of Rome,” National Review, 8/16 (1859), 313–39Google Scholar, at 315.

55 Freeman, Edward A., “Mommsen's History of Rome,” in Freeman, Historical Essays, Second Series (London, 1873), 234–65, at 237Google Scholar n.

56 Ibid.

57 Arnold, Thomas, “The Social Progress of States,” in The Miscellaneous Works of Thomas Arnold, 1st American edn (New York and Philadelphia, 1845), 324–5Google Scholar.

58 Stanley, Arthur P., The Life of Thomas Arnold (London, 1903Google Scholar; first published 1845), 345.

59 Arnold, Introductory Lectures, 26.

60 Ibid.

61 Freeman, Edward A., The Office of the Historical Professor: An Inaugural Lecture Read in the Museum at Oxford, October 15, 1884 (London, 1884), 42.Google Scholar

62 Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2: 282–3.

63 Freeman, Chief Periods, 93.

64 Freeman to E. B. Tylor, 20 July 1872, in Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2: 57.

65 Freeman, Edward A., The Ottoman Power in Europe, Its Nature, Its Growth, and Its Decline (London, 1877), 5Google Scholar, added emphasis.

66 Bury, who was much younger than Freeman, edited several of Freeman's books. Following Bury's reviews of Freeman's HOS the latter even told him, “You understand me as nobody else does.” See Freeman to Bury, 22 Feb. 1892, in Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2: 453.

67 Bury to Freeman, 15 Nov. 1891, Freeman papers, MSS FA1, JRUL.

68 Bury, John B., “ART. II.—Freeman's History of Sicily Vol. I–II,” Scottish Review, 19 (Jan. 1892), 2654Google Scholar, at 26–7.

69 Freeman, Inaugural Lecture, 35.

70 Freeman, Edward A., The Story of Sicily: Sicily, Phoenician, Greek, and Roman (London, 1892)Google Scholar.

71 Ibid., 353.

72 Ibid., 353–4.

73 Freeman, HOS, 2: 11.

74 Ibid., 1: 291.

75 Ibid., 1: 301–2.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid., 2: 22–3.

78 Ibid., 1: 302 n.

79 The theory of Anglo-Saxon expansion became popular among American historians. The main “carrier” of this theory was Freeman's friend, the historian Herbert B. Adams. See Bell, “Alter Orbis,” 233–4; Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 2: 181. Furthermore, for many British scholars, America, as Duncan Bell demonstrates, became a new model for the future of the empire. See Bell, Duncan, “From Ancient to Modern in Victorian Imperial Thought,” Historical Journal, 49/3 (2006), 735–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 755–9.

80 Freeman, The Historical Geography of Europe, 96; Koditschek, Theodore, Liberalism, Imperialism, and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Visions of Great Britain (Cambridge, 2011), 241–5.Google Scholar

81 Freeman, Edward A., “Carthage,” in Freeman, Historical Essays, Fourth Series (London, 1892)Google Scholar.

82 Ibid., 13.

83 Ibid.,14.

84 Freeman, Edward A., The History and Conquests of the Saracens, 3rd edn (London, 1876;Google Scholar first published 1856), 14–17.

85 Freeman, “Mommsen's History,” in Freeman, Historical Essays, 236.

86 Stephens, Life and Letters of Edward A. Freeman, 1: 156–9.

87 Freeman, The History and Conquests of the Saracens, 21. As Gibbon famously declared, “I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.” See Gibbon, Decline and Fall, 12: 191.

88 Freeman, The History and Conquests of the Saracens, 3.

89 Ibid.

90 Freeman, Edward A., “Mahometanism in the East and the West,” North British Review, 23 (1855), 449–80Google Scholar, at 459.

91 Freeman, The History and Conquests of the Saracens, 72. For Freeman's view of the East see also Morrisroe, Vicky, “‘Eastern History with Western Eyes’: E. A. Freeman, Islam and Orientalism,” Journal of Victorian Culture, 16/1 (2011), 2545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

92 Freeman, The History and Conquests of the Saracens, 30.

93 Freeman, Historical Geography, 112.

94 For a later original periodization see Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne, 234.

95 Freeman, “Mahometanism,” 450.

96 Freeman, Ottoman Power, xix.

97 Ibid., xx.

98 Freeman, “Mahometanism,” 453–4.

99 Kelley, “Past History and Present Politics,” 120–23; Morrisroe, “Eastern History with Western Eyes,” 30–32.

100 Gladstone, William E., Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (London, 1876)Google Scholar.

101 Edward A. Freeman, “The Turkish Atrocities: Mr. Gladstone and the Turkish Empire,” The Times, 8 Sept. 1876, 7.

102 Freeman, The History and Conquests of the Saracens, x.

103 For a discussion on this saying see Hesketh, Ian, “‘History Is Past Politics, and Politics Present History’: Who Said It?”, Notes and Queries, 61/1 (2014), 105–8;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Paul, Herman, “‘History Is Past Politics, and Politics Present History’: When Did E. A. Freeman Coin This Phrase?,” Notes and Queries, 62/3 (2015), 436–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

104 Freeman, Historical Geography, 17.

105 Ibid.

106 Freeman, Ottoman Power, 4.

107 Freeman, HOS, 2: 166–7.

108 Freeman, “Race and Language,” 173–7.

109 Freeman, The Chief Periods of European History, 138–9.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *