J. C. D. Clark

Jonathan Charles Douglas Clark (born 28 February 1951) is a British historian of both British and American history. He received his undergraduate degree at Downing College, Cambridge. Having previously held posts at Peterhouse, Cambridge and All Souls College, Oxford into 1996, he has since held the Joyce C. and Elizabeth Ann Hall Distinguished Professorship of British History at the University of Kansas.


Clark began as a leading revisionist historian of 17th- and 18th century British history. He is notable for arguing against both the Marxist and Whiggish interpretations of the late 17th and 18th centuries. Instead, Clark emphasises the unities and coherences of the period between 1660 and 1832. It was he who dubbed it the "long eighteenth century," a periodisation which is now widely accepted in historical academia.[1] Clark maintains the period was one of Anglican-aristocratic hegemony, marked by popular acceptance of the monarchy and the Church of England as symbols of national unity. This edifice was characterised by the dominance of an aristocratic-gentry oligarchy and a sense of national identity (preceding 19th century nationalism), that was firmly underpinned by a shared history and religious allegiance. In Clark's model, Britons embraced the official entrenchment of these parameters, which was challenged primarily by religious dissent.

Clark has also framed an explanation of the American Revolution as, in part, a "war of religion", triggered by the denominational conflicts still endemic at that time within the English-speaking North Atlantic world.[2]

Clark has frequently maintained that too often the 18th century has been interpreted teleologically in the light of the 19th; he sees his mission as an historian to explain the long 18th century in its own terms. Clark criticised Marxists such as Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson for advancing what he argued was an incorrect interpretation. Styled by one historiographer a "political and religious reactionary,"[3] Clark criticised earlier British historians, especially Marxists such as Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson for advancing what he derided as a distortedargued was an incorrect interpretation. In 1985, Clark called Hill, Thompson and Hobsbawm "that cohort of scholars whose minds were formed in the matrix of inter-war Marxism."[4]

Clark became notorious for his attacks in the 1980s on Sir John H. Plumb, which made him certainly conspicuous and according to Hutton "probably the most hated living historian."[5] As a result of his animus against Plumb, a public letter denouncing Clark was signed by every historian at Cambridge except for Sir Geoffrey Elton.[6] Portions of Clark's work, however, were accepted by his colleagues (though perhaps as exaggerated) and several of them felt compelled to concede that he "had performed a valuable service in drawing attention to important features of eighteenth-century society, particularly the religious element, which had hitherto been neglected."[7]

In 1994 Clark published Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion, and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism, in which he argued that Johnson was not only a Tory but also a Jacobite and a nonjuror (one who declined or avoided loyalty oaths to the Hanoverians). The thesis proved controversial. Clark and the Cambridge-based literary scholar Howard Erskine-Hill debated American literary scholars, chiefly Donald Greene and Howard Weinbrot, in two successive volumes of The Age of Johnson (Volumes 7 and 8) and an issue of Studies in English Literature. Clark and Erskine-Hill produced an edited volume on Johnson's political views in 2002 and two additional volumes on the subject in 2012.


  1. Clark, English Society, p. x, where he also acknowledges that his "programmatic idea" had its "precursor" in Betty Kemp, King and Commons 1660–1832 (London: Macmillan, 1957;1984).
  2. Clark, Language of Liberty, p. 304.
  3. Ronald Hutton, "Revisionism in Britain" in Companion to Historiography, ed. Michael Bentley (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 377-91, at 386.
  4. John Tosh, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of History, 2nd ed. (London: Longman, 1991), p. 178; Clark, Revolution and Rebellion, p. 2.
  5. Hutton, "Revisionism in Britain," p. 387-88.
  6. Hutton, "Revisionism in Britain," p. 387-88.
  7. Hutton, "Revisionism in Britain," p. 387-88.

Major publications

  • The Dynamics of Change: the Crisis of the 1750s and English Party Systems (Cambridge: 1982). ISBN 0-521-23830-7.
  • English Society, 1688–1832: Ideology, Social Structure, and Political Practice During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: 1985). ISBN 0-521-30922-0; 2nd (revised) ed. English Society 1660–1832: Religion, Ideology and Politics During the Ancien Regime (Cambridge: 2000). cited as 'Clark, English Society.' ISBN 0-521-66180-3.
  • Revolution and Rebellion: State and Society in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Cambridge: 1986). cited as 'Clark, Revolution and Rebellion.' ISBN 0-521-33063-7.
  • Editor, The Memoirs and Speeches of James, 2nd Earl Waldegrave, 1742–1763 (Cambridge: 1988). ISBN 0-521-36111-7.
  • Editor, Ideas and Politics in Modern Britain (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990). ISBN 0-333-51551-X.
  • The Language of Liberty, 1660–1832: Political Discourse and Social Dynamics in the Anglo-American World (Cambridge: 1994). cited as 'Clark, Language of Liberty.' ISBN 0-521-44957-X.
  • Samuel Johnson: Literature, Religion, and English Cultural Politics from the Restoration to Romanticism (Cambridge:1994). ISBN 0-521-47304-7.
  • "British America: What If There Had Been No American Revolution?," in Virtual History, ed. Niall Ferguson (New York: Basic Books, 1997;1999), pp. 125–74. ISBN 0-333-64728-9.
  • Co-editor, Samuel Johnson in Historical Context, co-editor: Howard Erskine-Hill (New York: Palgrave, 2002). ISBN 0-333-80447-3.
  • Editor, Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France: a Critical Edition (Stanford, 2001). ISBN 0-8047-3923-4.
  • Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History (London: Atlantic Books, 2003). ISBN 1-84354-122-X.
  • The Politics of Samuel Johnson, co-editor: Howard Erskine-Hill (New York: Palgrave, 2012). ISBN 978-0230355996
  • The Interpretation of Samuel Johnson, co-editor: Howard Erskine-Hill (New York: Palgrave, 2012). ISBN 978-0230356009
  • From Restoration to Reform: The British Isles 1660-1832 (London: Vintage 2014). ISBN 978-0099563235
  • Thomas Paine: Britain, America, and France in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution (Oxford, 2018). ISBN 9780198816997

Further reading

  • Innes, Joanna. "Jonathan [J.C.D.] Clark, Social History and England's 'Ancien Regime'," Past and Present no.115(May 1987), 165–200. (Reviewed work: English Society, 1688–1832.)
  • Pocock, J.G.A. "1660 and All That: Whig-Hunting, Ideology and Historiography in the Work of Jonathan Clark," Cambridge Review 108,2(Oct. 1987), 125–128.
  • Black, Jeremy. "On Second Thoughts: England's 'Ancien Regime'?" History Today 38,3(March 1988), 43–51.
  • Sharpe, K.M., Kishlansky, Mark A., Dickinson, H.T. "Symposium: Revolution and Revisionism," Parliamentary History 7,2(1988), pp. 328–338.
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