This book is an investigation of how societies have understood and described themselves. It is concerned both with the history of language and the language of history. The chapters include studies of societies in Germany, China, USA and India, pre-revolutionary France and 19th-century Britain and America. The author examines how political declarations and manifestos relate to the societies from which they emanated and for which they aimed to legislate. Words such as "liberty" and "equality" have to be understood in a limited sense in the French and American revolutions, but it would be impossible to understand these events without recourse to these resonant concepts. The essays in this book explore the difficulties and the possibilities in understanding language as historical evidence.
Introduction, Penelope J.Corfield; estates, degrees and sorts - changing perceptions of society in Tudor and Stuart England, Keigh Wrightson; "hidalgo" and "pechero" - the language of "estates" and "classes" in early-modern Castile, I.A.A.Thompson; definitions of nobility in 17th century France, Roger Mettam; class by name and munber in 18th-century Britain, Penelope J.Corfield; the emergence of "Society" in 18th and 19th century Germany, James Van Horn Melton; from gentlemen to the residuum - languages of social description in Victorian Britain, Geoffrey Crossick; "To each a language of his own" language, culture and society in colonial India, David Washbrook; the language of representation - towards a Muslim political order in 19th century India, Farzana Shaikh; Chinese views of social classification, Philip A.Kuhn; languages of power in the United States, Daniel T.Rodgers and Sean Wilentz; language and interpretation - Paul Robeson before the House Committee on Un-American activities, William Downes.