What Is History? by Edward Hallett CarrThis is a masterful study of the questions historians ask themselves--and readers of history should ask themselves--about the nature of the writing of history. Is history a bunch of objective facts just put down by a disinterested bean-counter called an historian? Or is it a study of the past with the goal of shedding light on the present? Is it a tale of the victors, as the losers in history are usually obliterated? Is it cause and effect? Is there a Spirit of History, a World Spirit a la Hegel? Carr was an eminent Russian historian and it is fascinating to get a look into the making of history, how the vision has changed from century to century… how the scarcity of facts makes the writing of history both easier and harder, the specific problems of contemporary history.
The issue I find especially important is the lens through which an historian assembles his or her facts for analysis--that people need to understand that its not I read this ergo its true. We need to identify the lens, and perhaps balance it with the lens of the opposite point of view, and maybe triangulate with histories by writers more or less colorful and opinionated--though opinion, or point of view, IS the engine which sends the historian on his or her journey in the first place.
Its much like biblical scholarship--to understand the hands which have created a specific text, and each historian has his or her own world view and raison dêtre in creating it. Which bone are they picking? Which school of historiography (the study of the writing of history) do they consciously or unconsciously take as their own?
Carr, like many historians, is an absolutely fantastic writer--some of the turns of phrase, the little asides, sometimes gentlemanly digs at colleagues, are laugh out loud funny, as well as very thoughtful.I would have liked more philosophy myself… but this small book had been originally a short series of lectures, which is one of its virtues.
What Historians DO
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quotes about choices and decisions
The Historian and His Facts
What Is History? It discusses history, facts, the bias of historians, science, morality, individuals and society, and moral judgements in history. The book originated in a series of lectures given by Carr in at the University of Cambridge. The lectures were intended as a broad introduction into the subject of the theory of history and their accessibility has resulted in What is History? Nevertheless, some of Carr's ideas are contentious, particularly his relativism and his rejection of contingency as an important factor in historical analysis.