The Passionate Historian
A conversation with John H. Elliott

Who are the stewards of our past? What does it take to sift through the rubble and reconstruct a comprehensive picture of human events? In clear, candid and captivating tones, Sir John Elliott tells us how an undergraduate encounter with a 17th century painting led him on a lifelong odyssey to ...


About John H. Elliott:

Sir John Huxtable Elliott is one of the most accomplished historians of our age. A specialist in 17th century Spain, he has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Prince of Asturias Award, and the Balzan Prize for History.

The basis for our conversation is John's most recent boo...


Some Additional Resources:
History in the Making

by John H. Elliott
The basis of our conversation.

Imperial Spain: 1469-1716

by John H. Elliott

The Revolt of the Catalans

by John H. Elliott

Richelieu and Olivares

by John H. Elliott

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

by John H. Elliott

Two Cheers for Objectivity (Commentary Excerpt)

What’s the point of history?

For Herodotus, the man generally acknowledged to have launched the discipline, the answer was crystal clear. He wrote, he told us: “so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds – some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians – may not be without their glory.”

This determination to establish the historical record, to preserve our achievements and disappointments against the ravages of time, has lasted better than Herodotus could have possibly imagined. The Histories, after all, is still enthusiastically read and enjoyed some 2500 years after it was written, long after its author’s world has entirely crumbled away. That’s some serious staying power.

But while Herodotus continues to be read, his track record as a purveyor of historical truth has long been called into question. When Thucydides began writing his masterpiece a few decades later, he took great pains to pronounce that, in stark contrast to others (meaning, presumably, Herodotus), he felt no compulsion whatsoever to indulge in fanciful folk-tales or playful speculations. The job of a historian, Thucydides airily informs us, is simply to record what has happened, plain and simple.

Except that, most of the time at least, it’s neither plain nor simple.

Genuine objectivity involves a steadied sense of detachment, yet a good historian must be sufficiently obsessed about his subject matter to carry out the necessary work to do it justice.

Sir John Elliott, one of the world’s most distinguished historians, is perfectly placed to guide us through this complex psychological landscape. An Englishman who has spent his career immersed in the subtleties of early modern Spain, he has a natural understanding of objectivity’s double-edged sword...

For the full Commentary, purchase this issue from our site, or buy the eBook from or iBookstore, or download our app off Apple Newsstand. Each issue comes with the commentary, the full conversation, a biography of our guest, as well as references for further exploration.