|The thesis concentrates on the work of fourteen antiquaries active in the period from the French Revolution to the Great Exhibition in England, Scotland and France. I have used a combination of the antiquaries’ published works, which cover, among other subjects, architecture, topography, costume history, Shakespeare and the history of furniture, alongside their private papers to develop an account of that lived engagement with the past which characterised the romantic period. It ends with the growing professionalisation and specialisation of historical studies in the mid-nineteenth century which left little room for the self-generating, essentially romantic antiquarian enterprise.
In so far as this subject has been considered at all it has been in the context of what has come to be called ‘the invention of tradition’. It is true that the romantic engagement with history as narrative led to some elaboration of the facts, while the newness of the enterprise laid it open to mistakes. I have not ignored this. The restoration of the Bayeux Tapestry, the forged tartans of the Sobieski Stuarts and the creation of Shakespeare’s Birthplace are all considered. Overall, however, I have been concerned not to debunk but as it were to ‘rebunk’, to see the antiquaries in their historical context and, as far as possible, in their own terms.