My name is Rick Higginbotham. My interest in history has been shaped primarily by the places I’ve grown up and traveled and the people I’ve encountered. A big part of my historical interest is in understanding the evolution of modern society and politics and questioning popular assumptions of how society came to be the way it is. My interest begins with the place I was born- Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, and the places surrounding it: Ripon, where I spent my first few years, Lancashire and Wales to the west and Scotland to the north all being favorite places of interest. However, my interest has also been greatly shaped by growing up in the state of Virginia, in Stafford County, where George Washington also grew up. Visiting colonial homes and Civil War battlefields has always been a favorite pastime of mine, my favorite Virginia site probably being Monticello, a shining example of the genius of Thomas Jefferson.
To understand the histories of Britain and the United States is to unravel much of what defines the modern world, particularly in the west. In Britain, political developments in the 17th and 18th Century would define the society that would create the world’s biggest empire, and also lead to ideas like the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The United States and Britain together form the world’s biggest powers, having won the two world wars and in effect the Cold War, so understanding the origins of their political developments, both of which primarily stem from the Whig, or Liberal, tradition is critical to seeing our place in the world today. In addition, my personal interest in the history of the two countries has to do with my ancestry and personal life. My family’s connection to America began when my eleventh great-grandfather William Claiborne came over from Kent, England into Jamestown and discovered an island in the Chesapeake Bay which he named Kent Island after his home and claimed for the Virginia Colony. Today the island still bears that name but as it was given by Parliament to the Maryland Colony it is still in the State of Maryland today. The church at Jamestown still has a plaque honoring William Claiborne, and as my ancestors continued to make their way over from the British Isles throughout the centuries they continued to shape this country by fighting in the Continental Army, the Union and Confederate Armies, and both World Wars. My grandmother was the last immigrant in my family from England to be naturalized, in the 1960s.
I have always been fascinated by politics and how history created our present day understanding of it. Ironically, “politics” is often seen as a dirty word while “Democracy” has better associations, despite the fact that democracy is merely extending politics to a lot more people. The political developments which interest me the most are those of 17th and 18th Century Britain and France. Thus is begotten the name of this blog, for despite the loss of the name, I consider the Whig political faction in Britain to be the most successful political enterprise ever. The Whigs also play no small role in the success of the American War of Independence.
The French Revolution is also of great interest to me for the monumental role it has played in shaping world politics (Whigs were split in their sympathies to it, Edmund Burke, a Whig who was opposed to it, became the father of modern conservatism). I like to joke that the three values of the French Revolution- liberté, égalité, fraternité– would eventually end up at war with each other in World War II, with the Western Allies for Liberalism (liberté), the USSR for Communism (égalité) and the Axis for Nationalism (fraternité). For what can revolutionary movements, having succeeded in overthrowing the old order, do but quarrel with each other? This is a question that one of my favorite writers, French philosopher Joseph de Maistre, might ask.
In addition to my studies I also very much enjoy traveling to places of historical significance. I have had the privilege to travel to places such as Prague, Bratislava, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Paris, throughout the UK, throughout the US, British Columbia, and the Bahamas (there’s a nice 18th Century British fort in Nassau, so don’t just go for the beaches). One great experience I had in the summer of 2016 was visiting Yorktown Battlefield here in Virginia, where the War of Independence was won, and then two weeks later being in Caernarfon Castle in Wales where there is a museum dedicated to the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who fought at Yorktown. This was the only British regiment at Yorktown which did not surrender its colors. My favorite city in the world is probably Prague, in Bohemia, though. I’ve yet to see the urban beauty which could rival it.
Ultimately what I hope to achieve in studying history is to “brush history against the grain,” as Frankfurt School essayist Walter Benjamin put it. In doing this I am making my way through my history degree at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg as well as continuing to read and travel independently.