Personality & Power: The individual's role in the history of twentieth-century Europe


By Ian Kershaw, published 31st August 2004

What role do individuals wielding great power play in determining significant historical change? And how do historians locate human agency in historical change, and explain it? These are the issues I would like to reflect a little upon here. They are not new problems. But they are inescapable ones for historians in any attempt to understand the past. In our everyday lives we tend fairly automatically to look to attribute blame or praise to individuals in our explanation of an event – for example, in our accounts of a train crash, a company fraud, or climbers stranded up a mountain in treacherous conditions.

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