Walter Ralegh's History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance

Walter Ralegh's History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance

Nicholas Popper

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226675008

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Imprisoned in the Tower of London after the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, Sir Walter Ralegh spent the next seven years producing his massive History of the World. Created with the aid of a library of more than five hundred books he was allowed to keep in his quarters, this work of English vernacular would become a bestseller with nearly twenty editions, abridgments, and continuations issued in the years that followed. This book uses Ralegh's History as a touchstone in its exploration of the culture of history writing and historical thinking in the late Renaissance. From it we learn why early modern Europeans ascribed heightened value to the study of the past and how scholars and statesmen began to see historical expertise as not just a foundation for political practice and theory, but a means of advancing their power in the courts and councils of contemporary Europe. The rise of historical scholarship during this period encouraged the circulation of its methods to other disciplines, transforming Europe's intellectual—and political—regimes. More than a mere study of Ralegh's book, this book reveals how the methods historians devised to illuminate the past structured the dynamics of early modernity in Europe and England.