Yet in turning to the details of the published lecture itself, one finds far less controversy than advertised. Certainly, his claims to a uniquely British approach to historical writing that espouses lively prose with archival depth raises eyebrows. But Evans--as well as many of the British academics he cites--never attempts to claim an exclusively British interest in non-domestic history. In fact, he acknowledges that American historians in particular exhibit a disproportionate willingness to study non-domestic topics, especially when it comes to interest in areas of the world outside of the U.S. or Europe.
At the same time, his discussion does raise a key point: what prompts historians to specialize in the history of another country or region? In my experience, such a question rarely sparks discussion within an academic setting, but inevitably arises whenever meeting somebody publicly for the first time. Moreover, aside from the career decisions implicated in any research focus, what relationship, if any, can be expected between a historian's national affiliation and the product of their research? Does living in the U.S. in the 21st century, for instance, make a researcher studying early colonial New England any more capable of interpreting that past than a contemporary historian born and residing in Paris? Can anybody claim a geographic "affiliation" with, say, any medieval or ancient past simply on the basis of his or her place of birth?
Perhaps the items of greatest interest in the Evans lecture are his interviews with a number of historians who struck out to study another country. Accounts of how these researchers first accomplished this leap--and in particular, how they acquired the language skills necessary to do this--makes for engaging (and heartening) reading for anyone who has struggled to replicate this feat.