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What Is History? Paperback – October 12, 1967

ISBN-13: 978-0394703916 ISBN-10: 039470391X
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What Is History? + The Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It. + The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 12, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039470391X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394703916
  • Product Dimensions: 4.3 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
Some of the direct answers Prof. Carr gives to this stimulating question are (1) "to enable [us] to understand the society of the past" and (2) "to increase [our] mastery over the present. Discovering how he arrives at these answers is a reward in itself for anyone who cares in the least bit about the past, the present, or the future. This slim book, burgeoning with exposees and suggestions for thought, is a must-read for anyone who thinks he or she knows what history is, what it means, and what its implications are. The first lecture, "The Historian and His Facts", is a wake-up call for those who define history as a great-big collection of facts, the significance of which resides exclusively in the facts themselves. "Wie es eigentlich gewissen" was, as Prof. Carr explains, an untenable philosopy of history, since so much of what actually happened (and especially what it meant) in the past is dependent upon the biases of those involved in the actions and those involved in attempting to explain them. The five remaining lectures build on each other and make for wonderfully stimulating and interpretive reading. Built of the clarity and intermittent humor of Prof. Carr's prose, the structure of the book is well-conceived and tries to include as many of the central issues as possible, while presenting as fairly as one man can the views of those who do or did cling to conceptions of history which Prof. Carr discredits.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. Roland Marcus on July 13, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though published more than forty years ago, this book has contemporary relevance. A series of lectures given by the author at Cambridge University, it covers topics such as "The Historian and His Facts" and History as progress." The author rejects the notions of Hegal and Marx that history automatically has transcendent meaning. On the other hand neither it it series of random events. He tells us that all history is rinsed through the background filters of those who write it. Therefore "revisionist history" is not an occasional accident produced by over zealous observers, it is the only kind of history available to us. This a good read, perhaps marred slightly by over generalizations. The group discussion in which I participated was simulating.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
Although this book is difficult to understand in places (purely by virtue of it being an academic text that has obtained deserved popularity) it is a must for anybody interested in history as a discipline. Debates in historiography have moved on a great deal since Carr wrote this text, and the advent of post-modernism has complicated many of the issues that Carr raises. However, before trying to run, one should walk, and Carr provides the basic skills needed to become a good historian. I would recommend Richard Evans 'In Defence of History' for a modern perspective.
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30 of 39 people found the following review helpful By "spurky" on September 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
For a book on historiography, it's not gonna get any better. It really makes a big difference on how you see other historical writings and such. I don't know if this will help, but it's part of a report I did on the book:
The study of history offers new interpretations to the historian and the scholar, because it helps the historian understand his job and how to overcome problems, and it teaches the scholar to read history with a greater understanding. Just by reading Edward Carr's book, the student learns that when reading a history book, he shouldn't be concerned with just the facts in the book, but also the author and the time period in which the book was written. To fully grasp the work of the historian, he must first understand the circumstances under which the work was written. It is also beneficial to the historian himself, as Carr says, "the historian who is most conscious of his own situation is also more capable of transcending it, and more capable of appreciating the essential nature of the differences between his own society and outlook and those of other periods and other countries, than the historian who loudly protests that he is an individual and not a social phenomenon."
Carr does not delve into ways to approach history, except for simply and sporadically. He seems to feel that history should always be studied in the same way. The only "new method" he mentioned was time itself, changing peoples perspectives and expectations of history. New historians can base their studies off of the evidence and materials of the old, and in this way, history can progress. Carr says that over time, "Nothing...occurred to alter the inductive view of historical method...first collect your facts, then interpret them."
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jordan Bell on July 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
The writing in this book is crisp and clear. Carr has clearly spent time thinking about what he wants to say and says it well. This book is made up of six lectures. Lecture I, The historian and his facts: History isn't written by first collecting facts and then interpreting them. There are almost always too many facts to read them all: one needs provisional interpretations to guide what facts one uncovers. Carr says that when he is working he reads a few principal sources to get ideas, and this directs his search for facts, which may then modify his ideas, and so on. "The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context." (p. 5) Carr then quote's Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author": "a fact is like a sack- it won't stand up till you've put something in it" (Original: "Ma un fatto è come un sacco: vuoto, non si regge"). An historian must also be critical of their sources, which were all written for reasons. The reason might be a desire to give good information to later generations, but even then the historian should ask what the writer thought was good information.

Lecture II, Society and the individual: It's not possible to write history from an objective point of view, because an historian is part of history and their way of thinking depends on the society in which they live. Also, the people the historian studies should not be viewed as timeless, but as people acting in a context. There are great people who are worth studying, but we must study them as living in their society. What was it about their society that let their particular type of greatness flourish?

Lecture III, History, science and morality: Is history a science, and how important is this question?
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