J. B. Bury
|J. B. Bury|
John Bagnell Bury
|Born||16 October 1861
County Monaghan, Ireland
|Died||1 June 1927
John Bagnell Bury, FBA (16 October 1861 – 1 June 1927), known as J. B. Bury, was an Irish historian, classical scholar, Medieval Roman historian and philologist. He objected to the label "Byzantinist" explicitly in the preface to the 1889 edition of his Later Roman Empire. He held the position of Erasmus Smith's Professor of Modern History at Trinity College Dublin.
Bury was born and raised in Clontibret, County Monaghan, where his father was Rector of the Anglican Church of Ireland. He was educated first by his parents and then at Foyle College in Derry and Trinity College in Dublin, where he was elected a scholar in classics in 1879, graduated in 1882, and was made a fellow in 1885 at the age of 24. In 1893 he gained a chair in Modern History at Trinity College, which he held for nine years. In 1898 he was appointed Regius Professor of Greek, also at Trinity, a post he held simultaneously with his history professorship. In 1902 he became Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University.
At Cambridge, Bury became mentor to the medievalist Sir Steven Runciman, who later commented that he had been Bury's "first, and only, student." At first the reclusive Bury tried to brush him off; then, when Runciman mentioned that he could read Russian, Bury gave him a stack of Bulgarian articles to edit, and so their relationship began. Bury was the author of the first truly authoritative biography of Saint Patrick (1905).
Bury's writings, on subjects ranging from ancient Greece to the 19th-century papacy, are at once scholarly and accessible to the layman. His two works on the philosophy of history elucidated the Victorian ideals of progress and rationality which undergirded his more specific histories. He also led a revival of Byzantine history (which he considered and explicitly called Roman history), which English-speaking historians, following Edward Gibbon, had largely neglected. He contributed to, and was himself the subject of an article in, the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica. With Frank Adcock and S. A. Cook he edited The Cambridge Ancient History, launched in 1919.
"History as a science"
John Bagnell Bury's career shows his evolving thought process and his consideration of the discipline of history as a "science". From his inaugural lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge in 1902 comes his public proclamation of history as a "science" and not as a branch of "literature". He stated:
"I may remind you that history is not a branch of literature. The facts of history, like the facts of geology or astronomy, can supply material for literary art; for manifest reasons they lend themselves to artistic representation far more readily than those of the natural sciences; but to clothe the story of human society in a literary dress is no more the part of a historian as a historian, than it is the part of an astronomer as an astronomer to present in an artistic shape the story of the stars."
Bury's lecture continues by defending the claim that history is not literature, which in turns questions the need for a historian's narrative in the discussion of historical facts and essentially evokes the question: is a narrative necessary? But Bury describes his "science" by comparing it to Leopold von Ranke's idea of science and the German phrase that brought Ranke's ideas fame when he exclaimed "tell history as it happened" or "Ich will nur sagen wie es eigentlich gewesen ist." [I only want to say how it actually happened.] Bury's final thoughts during his lecture reiterate his previous statement with a cementing sentence that claims "...she (history) is herself simply a science, no less and no more".
On the Argument from Ignorance and the burden of proof
In his book, History of Freedom of Thought he said the following.
Some people speak as if we were not justified in rejecting a theological doctrine unless we can prove it false. But the burden of proof does not lie upon the rejecter.... If you were told that in a certain planet revolving around Sirius there is a race of donkeys who speak the English language and spend their time in discussing eugenics, you could not disprove the statement, but would it, on that account, have any claim to be believed? Some minds would be prepared to accept it, if it were reiterated often enough, through the potent force of suggestion.
The Odes of Pindar
- A History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene (2 vols.) (1889) 
- A History of the Roman Empire From its Foundation to the Death of Marcus Aurelius (1893)
- A History of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A. D. 802-867) (1912)
- A History of the Later Roman Empire from the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian (1923)
- The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians (1928)
- The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History (1905)
- History of the Papacy in the 19th Century (1864–1878) (1930)
- A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great (1900)
- The Ancient Greek Historians (Harvard Lectures) (1909)
- The Hellenistic Age: Aspects of Hellenistic Civilization (1923), with E.A. Barber, Edwyn Bevan, and W.W. Tarn
- A History of Freedom of Thought (1913)
- The Idea of Progress: An Inquiry into Its Origin and Growth (1920)
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1896–1900) — at Online Library of Liberty
- Edward Augustus Freeman, Freeman's Historical Geography of Europe (third edition, 1903)
- Edward Augustus Freeman, The Atlas To Freeman's Historical Geography (third edition, 1903)
- Irish Times, 21 May 2008
- "Glasgow University jubilee". The Times (36481). London. 14 June 1901. p. 10.
- D. Goldstein, “J.B. Bury's philosophy of history: a reappraisal.” American Historical Review (1977) 82: 896–919.
- Bury, John Bagnell (1930). "The science of history". Selected Essays. CUP Archive. p. 9. Retrieved 2015-04-01.
I may remind you that history is not a branch of literature. The facts of history, like the facts of geology or astronomy, can supply material for literary art; for manifest reasons they lend themselves to artistic representation far more readily than those of the natural sciences; but to clothe the story of human society in a literary dress is no more the part of a historian as a historian, than it is the part of an astronomer as an astronomer to present in an artistic shape the story of the stars.
- Stern, Fritz (1972). The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present. Random House. p. 214. ISBN 0-394-71962-X.
- Goldstein, Doris (October 1977). "J.B. Bury's Philosophy of history: A Reappraisal". The American Historical Review. 82 (4): 897 (896–919). JSTOR 1865117.
- Bury, J. B. (1913). History of Freedom of Thought. London: Williams & Norgate. p. 20.
- Volume One
- Volume Two
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