This book is an investigation of how societies have understood and described themselves. It is concerned both with the history of language and the language of history. The chapters include studies of societies in Germany, China, USA and India, pre-revolutionary France and 19th-century Britain and America. The author examines how political declarations and manifestos relate to the societies from which they emanated and for which they aimed to legislate. Words such as "liberty" and "equality" have to be understood in a limited sense in the French and American revolutions, but it would be impossible to understand these events without recourse to these resonant concepts. The essays in this book explore the difficulties and the possibilities in understanding language as historical evidence.