International history and International Relations have long been held separate, partly by misunderstanding and partly by mistrust. Three recent books, Marc Trachtenberg's Craft of international history, Paul Kennedy's The parliament of man and Niall Ferguson's The war of the world, suggest that the divide between history and theory is not as severe as it sometimes appears. This review article examines, through the histories of Kennedy and Ferguson, Trachtenberg's insistence that historians should be more attentive to the ‘conceptual cores’ of their work and that theorists should become better historians than they have been hitherto. It concludes by arguing that, in methodological terms at least, history and theory are not the distinct enterprises they are commonly taken to be.


See also Hedley Bull's observation, made in 1972, that ‘The contempt for purely historical work that one frequently encounters among academic international relations theorists derives from the quite false view that history is simply a matter of compiling “data” or “information”, by contrast with the political scientists more complex task of “processing” the data’: Kai AldersonAndrew Hurrell, eds, Hedley Bull on international society (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 254.
Efforts to overcome these stereotypes, as it is clear from one recent collection, have sometimes served to reinforce them. See Colin ElmanMiriam Fendius Elman, eds, Bridges and boundaries: historians, political scientists and the study of international relations (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001).
Peter Mandler, History and national life (London: Profile Books, 2002), p. 3.
Paul Kennedy is J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University and Niall Ferguson is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University.
Trachtenberg concludes that Taylor took the ‘structural theory’ of international politics ‘too far’ mainly because he ‘was trying too hard to be clever’ (p. 66).
Martin Wight, ‘Why is there no international theory?’, inHerbert ButterfieldMartin Wight, eds, Diplomatic investigations: essays on the theory of international politics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), p. 33.
Ibid., p. 32.
Alderson and Hurrell, Hedley Bull on international society, pp. 253, 255.
J. L. Brierly, The covenant and the charter: the Henry Sigwick Memorial Lecture, 1946 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946), pp. 9–13.
G. Lowes Dickinson (1863-1932) was educated at Charterhouse, read classics at King's College, Cambridge, and was elected to a Fellowship in 1887. He was the author of a number of books, including The Greek view of life (London: Methuen, 1947 [1896]) and The European anarchy (London: Allen & Unwin, 1916), the latter amended and reprinted as The international anarchy, 1904-1914 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1926).
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed., J. C. A. Gaskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), chapter xiv.
Lowes Dickinson's Hobbesian logic has not been without its admirers, even in the ‘realist’ tradition. See , for example, Hans Morgenthau's subtle discussion of a ‘world state’inPolitics among nations: the struggle for power and peace (New York: McGraw Hill, 1993, 6th edn), pp. 333–47.
See Lowes Dickinson'sWar: its nature, cause and cure (London: Allen & Unwin, 1993).
Paul Kennedy, The rise and fall of Great Powers: economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 2000 (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), p. 536. Kennedy cites many realists, from Leopold von Ranke (p. xxiv) to Halford Mackinder (p. 196), Thucydides (p. 198) to Robert Gilpin (p. 213).
Niall Ferguson, ed., Virtual history: alternatives and counterfactuals (London: Papermac, 1998), and as author, The pity of war (London: Allen Lane, 1998), The cash nexus: money and power in the modern world, 1700-2000 (London: Allen Lane, 2001), Empire: how Britain made the modern world (London: Penguin, 2004), Colossus: the rise and fall of the American empire (London: Penguin, 2005).
Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Touchstone, 1994, chapters 6-8).
Ferguson, ‘Virtual history: towards a “chaotic” theory of the past’, inVirtual history, pp. 79–90.
The clearest expression of Schmitt's view of politics may be found in his The concept of the political, trans. George Schwab (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976).
Ferguson, Colossus, p. xi.
Ibid., p. 24.
Ferguson, The cash nexus, pp. 421–2; Ferguson, Colossus, p. 301.
Ferguson, Colossus, p. xxvii.
This phrase belongs toRobert D. KaplanThe coming anarchy: shattering the dreams of the post Cold War (New York: Vintage, 2000), whose later book Warrior politics: why leadership demands a pagan ethos (New York: Random House) Ferguson discusses in Colossus, p. 5.
This phrase is borrowed from the highly popular BBC TV series, The Nazis: a warning from history.
Martin Wight, review ofA. L. Rowse, The use of history, and R. G. Collingwood, The idea of history, International Affairs 23: 4, 1947, p. 576. His ire was directed at Rowse.
Mandler, History and national life, p. 163.
James Der Derian, On diplomacy: a geneaology of western estrangement (London: Basil Blackwell, 1987).