Most historians of Britain in general, and of twentieth-century Britain more specifically, would describe themselves as ‘traditional’ and ‘empirical’ in their approach to the study of the past. This point was made by L. J. Butler in 1997, but it remains true today despite attacks on traditional historians from postmodernism, discussed below. So what is traditional history? And, specifically, what does a traditional historian do when studying Britain during the twentieth century? More or less all writers of historiographical textbooks point to the influence of the eighteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke on the so-called common-sense approach to historical enquiry and the writing up of results. Ranke was a Protestant and a conservative-minded scholar who placed enormous faith both in the meticulous reading of contemporary sources and in the harvesting of as many facts as possible to sustain the validity of the historians’ judgement. This was akin to positivism, wherein objective judgements were made from a careful process of scientific observation. Ranke’s famous dictum was that interpretations of the past should ‘tell it as it actually was’. This maxim has been open to misunderstanding and mockery, but on closer examination and careful adaptation it can be viewed as a valuable, even indispensable, guiding principle.