Customer Reviews: The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-Century History and Theory
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on May 16, 2001
I found this book very helpful in understanding the methodologies behind the different "houses" of historiography. As the first reviewer stated, it can sometimes be tedious, but if you need to know this stuff, this is a relatively painless way to go about doing it. Finally, I would just like to pose a question: why would anyone trust a review by a college student who cannot correctly spell "nonsense"?
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on July 10, 2005
Great book. Before I read it, I had been confused by the various historiographical 'houses.' Now I know what's what. Anyone who's doing a historiography course at university should read this book because it (a) explains most things well and (b) makes it clear that there is a lot of conscious consideration behind how historians approach the past, which I think anyone who plans to study the past for a living needs to know. Jay's negative review shows he isn't willing to engage in a sophisticated analysis of the historian's influence on history.
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on March 26, 2013
This is not a historical book, and I think the negative reviews are the result of people trying to read it as such. It is instead an instructional book, which intends to teach the reader about the different methods (houses) of history.

Anyone engaged in a serious study of history needs to understand how to read a historical work in two ways. First, you must read in order to acquire the information that the book is presenting, obviously. Second, a reader must analyze how the information is being presented. This includes the analysis of the logical arguments being used, the work being cited as evidence of that argument, and determining the author's bias. (Every author has one, even "objective" authors) Even the decision of what information to include in a historical work is evidence of the author's bias. The failure to take this into account will inevitably mean the failure to fully understand the work you are reading. The various arguments, pieces of evidence, and personal dispositions of the authors who write about a particular subject comprise different methods of historical scholarship, and they will vary from author to author. In other words, the "historiography" of a subject will contain a variety of methods, which this book calls the "houses of history"

The intent of this book is to explain these methods, and then provide examples of each. Toward this purpose, the book excels. Acquiring the skill to analyze the historiography of a work is an indispensable skill for the serious student of history.

Again this is not a history book. For example, the excerpt presented in the book by E.P Thompson is not necessarily intended to teach the reader about the English working class, but is instead intended to present an example of the Marxist method of history. The reader of this book will gain much more by analyzing the style, bias, and argumentation of each example work than by reading them for their historical value alone.

When read in this way, "The Houses of History" will help the reader to develop a more complete understanding of historical works. This book does not teach history, it teaches how to study history; and it does it very well.
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on January 31, 2010
The reason I recommend this book above any others on historigraphy, is that the chapters are succinct and virtually absent of pretentious academic-speak. In addition, each "house" of history comes with an example of the theory or methodology being discussed, which is useful for those of us who need "illustrations." While this work is extremely useful while taking an oft-painful historiography course, it is also a terrific handbook for developing the historiography section of a long research paper, thesis, or dissertation.
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on April 28, 2013
Historiography (writings about the writing of history) is a rather arcane topic, generally of interest only to historians. Even history students roll their eyes at the thought of historiography, but the consideration of the approach to use in writing the history of an event or person is important. Knowing how others have approached their subjects is also important. This review, then, is aimed at history students.

The Houses of History gives a good overview, with an example reading, for each of several main historical approaches, including Annales, social history, empiricism, psychohistory (yes, Isaac Asimov fans, we really use this term, but not quite in the way Hari Seldon did. Asimov merely extrapolated from a real school of history).

When students take their required course in historiography or theory of history, they may very well find this a required text. I did.

In its clarity and its approach, this is one of the better overviews of historical theory.
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on January 3, 2016
Targeted to a course in historiography, “Houses of History” discusses 12 different approaches to presenting and analyzing historical events. My own interest in this kind of a book was sparked back in high school by The Pooh Perplex, a humorous look at literary analysis styles from Marxism to literary snobbery to English Romanticism. Grasping the essential patterns of a style is like mastering different techniques of dance or a craft – the overview allows one to embrace and appreciate each, either as a spectator or as a performer.

Each selection is divided into two parts. The first is an overview by the authors the style is about with a few questions at the end to stimulate discussion. The second part is an example essay by a professional historian who employs that style. While the first part comes with footnotes and referenced, the sample essays do not, which IMV is a drawback.

While the overviews were uniformly quite good I had problems with some of the readings. E. P. Thompson's piece “Exploitation” on the status of tradesmen in the English industrial revolution had some elements of the Marxism it was supposed to illustrate but seemed to owe more to the unseen hand of Adam Smith. Richard Wall's essay on the composition of British Households since 1650 certainly did illustrate Quantitative Historical Methods but was so suitably boring in it's use of limited statistics that anyone unfamiliar with the approach would henceforth wish to ignore it. Henrietta Whiteman's post colonial exposition illustrated the emic bias of the genre. While directly contrasting European empiricism with indigenous narratives, the latter came off as cloyingly romanticized, and the choice of a self-interview rather than a 3rd person exposition of multiple sources put this more into a category of oral history. Finally Walkowitz's “Science and the Seance” fits the stylel of a newspaper article with its meandering descriptive detail. The appropriateness of the story of Mrs Weldon, a Victorian era spiritualist who's estranged husband tried to commit her to a lunatic asylum would fit better into a post structural framework if she were to tie this to Michel Foucault's analysis of the label of madness as a means to control fringe members of society.

On the other hand I was blown away by Hayden White's “The Fictions of Factual Representation”. White is someone who I've had on my list to read for some time. I found his equivalencing of historical analysis to fictional rhetoric disturbing yet seductive. Braudel's essay from The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II and his concept of 3 levels of time reflected in the social influences of mountain regions was impressive. Braudel is considered the founder of the Annales view of history and this is certainly an apt choice. Inga Clendinnen's discussion of the disintegration of 16th century Yucatan society came in the wake of the Spanish conquest, especially concerning women, was fascinating showing off the Ethno-Anthropologic approach admirably. Erik Erikson's analysis of Hitler's appeal to the German population not as a substitute father figure but as an overgrown adolescent older brother provided an excellent appeal for a Psycho historical perspective.

The examples of the remaining 4 chapters on Empirical, Sociological, the value and problems of collecting Oral Histories and the dimension of Gender in history were fair and reasonable representations.

Though long past university age I found the book useful in clarifying some matters, and more useful in fuzzifying others. Allowing for the substitution of the less recommendable readings this could be the basis of a really interesting seminar based or online discussion course.
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on October 7, 2014
This is a good foundational text for historical theory. It gives brief descriptions and textual examples of empiricism, marxism, psychohistory the Annales school, Historical sociology, quantitative history, Anthropology and ethnohistorians, narrative, oral history, gender and history, postcolonialism and poststructuralism/postmodernism. It's not perfect, especially in that it is already fifteen years old, and some of the categories could stand updating, like gender and history, but like I said, it's a great introduction, good for upper division undergraduate or graduate level study.
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on February 25, 2016
This is a must-have book for the serious student of history. In order to study "history" (whatever 'topic' you're getting into), you need to understand the discipline of history itself in order to have a broader appreciation for the historical topic is that you're studying. and to understand the discipline, it helps to understand that there are different approaches to studying history -- similarly to how there are different approaches to literary studies and critiques of a story. And in doing that, this book is a great addition to the history student's personal academic library. This book explores most of a dozen different approaches to historical study. along with each chapter is what i would call a 'case study' on a particular topic, given in a way that supports that chapter's historical approach. This book definitely helps to give the student a broader and more solid understanding of history and how to go about the study of it.
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on December 1, 2014
A very useful way to introduce the reader to the different schools of historical thought (i.e. empiricism, Marxism, etc). The editors picked some very good examples of texts to illustrate the different branches of modern historiography. I found the use of Braudel's THE MEDITERRANEAN AND THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD IN THE AGE OF PHILIP II for the "Annales" school particularly good.
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on January 22, 2007
I read this book for a methods course as well as some of the other reviewers. The format of the book is useful since it provides a synopsis of the selected perspectives as well as a reading that provides an example of the method/interpretation in action. While it is not always entertaining, it is not designed to be; it is a critical reader designed to promote critical discussion. I completed an annotated bibliography of the work (since Troup references many scholars and their works) and found this very useful so that I could read the better known examples that Troup discusses in each section. This book is a good spring board to further studies in the historian's journey to becoming thinking historian who is sensitive to the relationship between worldview, interpretation and methods in the historian's research.
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