Gertrude Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb also known as Bea Kristol, is an American historian. She has written extensively on intellectual history
Intellectual history
Note: this article concerns the discipline of intellectual history, and not its object, the whole span of human thought since the invention of writing. For clarifications about the latter topic, please consult the writings of the intellectual historians listed here and entries on individual...

, with a focus on Britain and the Victorian era
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

, as well as on contemporary society and culture.


Gertrude Himmelfarb received her undergraduate degree from Brooklyn college in 1942 and her doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1950. She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and at Girton College, Cambridge University. In 1942, she married Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol
Irving Kristol was an American columnist, journalist, and writer who was dubbed the "godfather of neoconservatism"...

 , known as the "godfather" of neoconservatism
Neoconservatism in the United States is a branch of American conservatism. Since 2001, neoconservatism has been associated with democracy promotion, that is with assisting movements for democracy, in some cases by economic sanctions or military action....

, and has two children, Elizabeth Nelson and William Kristol
William Kristol
William Kristol is an American neoconservative political analyst and commentator. He is the founder and editor of the political magazine The Weekly Standard and a regular commentator on the Fox News Channel....

, a political commentator and editor of The Weekly Standard
The Weekly Standard
The Weekly Standard is an American neoconservative opinion magazine published 48 times per year. Its founding publisher, News Corporation, debuted the title September 18, 1995. Currently edited by founder William Kristol and Fred Barnes, the Standard has been described as a "redoubt of...


Professor Emeritus at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, she is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees. She has served on the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, the Council of Academic Advisors of the American Enterprise Institute, and the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1991 she delivered the Jefferson Lecture under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2004 she received the National Humanities Medal awarded by the President.


Himmelfarb is a leading defender of traditional historical methods and practices. Her book The New History and the Old (published in 1987 and revised and expanded in 2004) is a critique of the varieties of "new history" that have sought to displace the old: quantitative history that presumes to be more "scientific" than conventional history but relies on partial and dubious data; Marxist history derived from economic assumptions and class models that leave little room for the ideas and beliefs of contemporaries or the actual protagonists and events of history; psychoanalytic history dependent on theories and speculations that violate the accepted criteria of historical evidence; analytic history that reduces history to a series of isolated "moments" with no overriding narrative structure; social history, "history from the bottom," that denigrates the role of politics, nationality, and individuals (the "great men" of history); and, most recently, postmodernist history, which denies even the ideal of objectivity, viewing all of history as a "social construct" on the part of the historian.

Himmelfarb criticized A.J.P. Taylor for seeking to “demoralize” history in his 1961 book The Origins of the Second World War, and for refusing to recognize "moral facts" about interwar Europe. Himmelfarb maintained that Taylor was wrong to treat Hitler as a "normal" German leader playing by the traditional rules of diplomacy in The Origins of the Second World War instead of being a "world-historical" figure like Napoleon.


Himmelfarb is best known as a historian of Victorian England. But she puts that period in a larger context. The Idea of Poverty opens with an extended analysis of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus, who helped shape the debates and policies throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Victorian Minds features such eighteenth-century "proto-Victorians" as Edmund Burke and Jeremy Bentham, concluding with the "last Victorian," John Buchan, whose novels depict a twentieth century imbued with Victorian values. The Moral Imagination ranges from Burke to Winston Churchill and Lionel Trilling, with assorted Victorians and non-Victorians in between. On Looking into the Abyss has modern culture and society in the forefront and the Victorians in the background, while One Nation, Two Cultures is entirely about American culture and society. The Roads to Modernity enlarges the perspective of the Enlightenment, both chronologically and nationally, placing the British Enlightenment in opposition to the French and in accord with the American. Most recently, The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot and The People of the Book focus on attitudes to Jews, Judaism, and Zionism in England from their readmission in the seventeenth century to the present.

And so with scores of essays demonstrating that Victorian "values" – "virtues," she calls them – were not unique to that time and place. "The Victorian Ethos: Before and after Victoria," is the title of one essay; "Victorianism before Victoria" are the opening words of another. The word "Victorian" today has a disagreeable and crabbed connotation, conjuring up repressive sexual and social mores. Himmelfarb humanizes and democratizes that concept.. In an interview after receiving the National Humanities Medal, she explained that the Victorian virtues – prudence, temperance, industriousness, decency, responsibility – were thoroughly pedestrian. "They depended on no special breeding, talent, sensibility, or even money. They were common, everyday virtues, within the capacity of ordinary people. They were the virtues of citizens, not of heroes or saints – and of citizens of democratic countries, not aristocratic ones." Himmelfarb has argued "for the reintroduction of traditional values (she prefers the term 'virtues'), such as shame, responsibility, chastity, and self-reliance, into American political life and policy-making".

Although Himmelfarb is often identified as a conservative, in Britain one of her most outspoken admirers is Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown
James Gordon Brown is a British Labour Party politician who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010. He previously served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government from 1997 to 2007...

, the former Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

Prime Minister. His introduction to the British edition of Roads to modernity opens: "I have long admired Gertrude Himmelfarb's historical work, in particular her love of the history of ideas, and her work has stayed with me ever since I was a history student at Edinburgh University."


  • Lord Acton: A Study of Conscience and Politics (1952)
  • Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959)
  • Victorian Minds (1968)
  • On Liberty and Liberalism: The Case of John Stuart Mill (1974)
  • The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (1984)
  • Marriage and Morals Among the Victorians (1986)
  • The New History and the Old (Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • Poverty and Compassion: The Moral Imagination of the Late Victorians (1991)
  • On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society (1994)
  • The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (1995)
  • One Nation, Two Cultures (1999)
  • The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (2004)
  • The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling (2006)
  • The Jewish Odyssey of George Eliot (2009)
  • The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, from Cromwell to Churchill (Encounter Books, 2011)

Edited Books

  • Lord Action, Essays on Freedom and Power(Free Press, 1948)
  • Thomas Robert Malthus, Essay on Population (Modern Library, 1960)
  • John Stuart Mill, Essays on Politics and Culture (Doubleday, 1962)
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Penguin, 1974)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir on Pauperism (Ivan Dee, 1997)
  • Milton Himmelfarb, Jews and Gentiles (Encounter Books, 2007)
  • The Spirit of the Age: Victorian Essays (Yale University Press, 2007)
  • Irving Kristol, The Neoconservative Persuasion (Basic Books, 2011)
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