Very few historians have dared to write a history of Europe.
I’m speaking of detailed, comprehensive histories by one person in English, not essays or textbooks.
It has been more attractive, or easier, to write world histories. I’m not suggesting that Toynbee took an easy path in writing his Study, but many others, especially recently, have considered themselves qualified to write world histories of one sort or another (comprehensive or not) who wouldn’t have had the temerity to write one of Europe or, come to that, of any other single part of the world.
There were only two major attempts in the twentieth century: HAL Fisher’s and Norman Davies’.
I am not sure that I would put JM Roberts’ rather dull History of Europe alongside them, and isn’t it extracted from his History of the World, which at various times has been called the Hutchinson History of the World, the Pelican History of the World and the Penguin History of the World?
There must have been some in other languages, but why don’t they come to mind? Henri Pirenne’s was unfinished and was not intended to run to the present. His son, Jacques, wrote world history.
In the nineteenth century, what was there? I’ve mentioned Bryce in this blog. His Holy Roman Empire (1864) was a history of much of Europe. There was a primer by Freeman in a series edited by JR Green. (It summarises European history in 150 pages and covers what a Victorian schoolboy would have been expected to know. But it’s a textbook.) What else?
Some ancient writers had a conception of world history, so did some medieval; I’ve mentioned the Nuremberg Chronicle. In the early modern age there were ecclesiastical histories (though as Belloc said, “the faith is Europe and Europe is the faith”) and histories of times and places, but not histories of Europe.
The twentieth century rediscovered world history, and comprehensiveness for its own sake. Wells’s Outline of History attracted attention in 1920 because the subject was so new.
Fisher’s calm History of Europe appeared, at first in three volumes, in 1935. Davies’ Europe appeared in 1996.
Fisher’s Preface to the one-volume edition of his work in 1936 contained an almost anti-Toynbeean disclaimer (the first three volumes of Toynbee’s work had appeared in 1934):
“One intellectual excitement has […] been denied to me. Men wiser and more learned than I have discerned in history a plot, a rhythm, a predetermined pattern. These harmonies are concealed from me. I can see only one emergency following upon another as wave follows upon wave, only one great fact with respect to which, since it is unique, there can be no generalizations, only one safe rule for this historian: that he should recognize in the development of human destinies the play of the contingent and the unforeseen.”