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The Historians' Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time [Hardcover]

Peter Charles Hoffer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

November 1, 2008 0814737145 978-0814737149

How do we know what happened in the past? We cannot go back, and no amount of historical data can enable us to understand with absolute certainty what life was like “then.” It is easy to demolish the very idea of historical knowing, but it is impossible to demolish the importance of historical knowing. In an age of cable television pundits and anonymous bloggers dueling over history, the value of owning history increases at the same time as our confidence in history as a way of knowing crumbles. Historical knowledge thus presents a paradox — the more it is required, the less reliable it has become. To reconcile this paradox — that history is impossible but necessary — Peter Charles Hoffer proposes a practical, workable philosophy of history for our times, one that is robust and realistic, and that speaks to anyone who reads, writes and teaches history.

Covering a sweeping range of philosophies (from ancient history to game theory), methodological approaches to writing history, and the advantages and disadvantages of different strategies of argument, Hoffer constructs a philosophy of history that is reasonable, free of fallacy, and supported by appropriate evidence that is itself tenable.

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Editorial Reviews


“A rattlingly good read….[S]trongly recommend[ed]…in any teaching context where students of history are being asked to reflect philosophically upon the nature of their subject.”
-American Historical Review


The Historians' Paradox can be read with profit by practitioners and graduate students because it is more insightful, better balanced, and more concise then most recent books on the nature of the historical enterprise.”
-The Journal of American History


“Hoffer expands the theory of history beyond its usual narrow confines. A readable and instructive book on a complex topic.”


“[C]onsistently amusing and edifying throughout. [Hoffer] demonstrates an extraordinary mastery of a wide variety of materials. He’s a mature historian at peak form.”
-Peter Onuf,author of The Mind of Thomas Jefferson

“Hoffer has a knack for using contemporary situations that will eventually be topics for historical writing.”
-Claire Potter,Wesleyan University

About the Author

Peter Charles Hoffer is Distinguished Research Professor of History at the University of Georgia. He has authored and co-authored more than twenty books, including Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, and Fraud in American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis and Goodwin and The Supreme Court: An Essential History.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 226 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (November 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814737145
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814737149
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,106,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Philosophy of History October 27, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Hoffer's book is a highly enjoyable visit of a wide range of philosophies, methods, and strategies of how to construct a history. As a jurist who confronts these difficulties on a daily basis in the courtroom I run into these issues, on a smaller scale. Hoffer confirms some of my ideas of the challenge that confronts a historian. How do we know what happened in the past? While it is important to make a finding of fact, the finding does not make it so. However, the finding of fact is necessary.

This is an easy to read discussion of a tenable philosophy of history for our time.
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