What Is History?
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

What Is History?

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  985 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Who is to say how things really were? In formulating a modern answer to the question 'What is History?' Professor Carr shows that the 'facts' of history are simply those which historians have selected for scrutiny. Millions have crossed the Rubicon, but the historians tell us that only Caesar's crossing was significant. All historical facts come to us as a result of interp...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Penguin Books (first published 1961)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,936)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
David Sarkies
Mar 22, 2014 David Sarkies rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Those interested in studying history as a discipline.
Shelves: philosophy
Exploring the study of history
31 December 2011

This book is not actually a book on history per se but rather an exploration of the discipline of history. This is the main reason that I consider it philosophy as it is not looking at a specific historical event, or looking at the history of civilisation but rather taking a step back and exploring what it is that historians do. This is something that many of us generally take foregranted when we look and an historical event. Many of us will discuss...more
Seán
I bought a 50¢ copy of this book years ago on a bargain bin spree at either Housing Works or the Strand. Until recently, every time I paged through it I couldn't help but deride its maddeningly simple-minded premise: in a series of lectures at Cambridge in the 1950s, Carr set out to actually answer the question what is history.

Is history a science? Are there "causes" for historical events? What is fact? And, yes, this is as boring as one might expect. You advance through a few pages of this kind...more
Jackie
Excerpt from my essay:

Carr quickly discredits the notion of history as a universal entity, lambasting Acton’s proposal of an “ultimate history” by indicating that such a concept imposes a complete separation between subject and object. The 19th century positivist claim that history is a pure science is a false conviction based not on reality but rather, as Carr calls it, a “cult of facts.” Factuality comprises merely one aspect of the historian’s task. To have meaning, facts must be properly ana...more
Allen
Thank you to Jackie Hurwitz for even reminding me of What is History? by Edward Hallett Carr.

I read this book for a course on Historiography at Middlebury College in 2004. I should remark that this was the first book on the subject in the syllabus because, if I had read some of the other literature first, my impression may have been substantially less positive. In my opinion, positivism is the problem behind Carr's theory. Carr just puts too much credibility in the validity and Truth of facts.

I...more
Paul
Although he penned an immense collection of writings on the Soviet Union and international relations, most historians outside of his speciality know E. H. Carr as the author of What is History?, a historiographical work that challenged the traditional mindset of the field of history. Organized as a transcript of a series of lectures he gave on the subject, Carr attempts to answer the work’s eponymous question by examining trends, and several key scholars, over the field’s development and rejecti...more
Richard Hughes
Believe it or not, this book is a best seller. To date, it has sold nearly one quarter of a million copies. ‘What is History?’ is over 50 years old and is still indispensable reading for historians, history students and anyone with more than a passing interest in history. Despite his landmark history of the Soviet Union, this short work dominated E.H. Carr’s entry in ‘Fifty Key Thinkers on History’ (Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Routledge, 2000).

The book is essentially the transcripts of a series of...more
Hong
i know this is a good book but i just didn't have the patience/knowledge in history to fully appreciate it. but i did learn a few things, that history is not as simple/straight-forward as what i used to think. History is essentially an interplay between the subjective and objective; the past, present and future - how the past is viewed from the present, and how the present is viewed based on the past.
And that historical "facts" aren't purely facts as we know them, because the historian has to s...more
Herman Gigglethorpe
This is quite a challenging book, and you have to read it multiple times in order to understand all of what E.H. Carr is saying.

It's still a great introduction to historiography. History is not just about learning facts, but learning about bias in the records and interpreting the importance of events in their social context. One example that he gives is that many people have crossed the Rubicon, but only Julius Caesar's crossing is considered history.

Other important sections include the ideas o...more
Gregg
Old news to the professionals, I suppose. I tell my students all the cliches already: "History is written by the victors"; "History is a cruel joke on the living"; "History is pop culture." (That last one is from Wuhl, by the way.) But Carr apparently got the ball rolling. To him, studying history means studying the historian. To him, facts are not objective, in that they were subjectively selected and arranged by a human being, subject to all the subjectivity bestowed upon him and her. And to C...more
Ricardo Ribeiro
I am now 47 years, and I read this one when I was 20. It was in my first university (or college, if you are American) and its reading marked me deeply. It came with the emotion of the first really serious studying book. And it made me think a lot about the degree I was about to initiate. In a word, one of the books of my life.
DoctorM
One of the classics of modern thinking about History as a discipline. Simply put--- something every serious History major or graduate student should read...and so should anyone interested in what History as a discipline is and does.
Alex
Read this for a class, but it is an extremely useful book form an outside on history and historiography!
Marut Lucky
This is the third time i am reading this book.Although the title of the book seem that it might be easy to read. But it is not so. only when you have read a lot of history and philosophicial discussion of person like Hegel and other historians you can comprehend this book. So i have put this book in the shelve of to be read again and again and i hope that after many years i may be able to understand this book very well. But anyone who has read a lot of history books will surely like this book. S...more
Max Uhlenhuth
Brief, crisp, and deeply insightful, Carr's short book ([100 pages) tackles the central questions of historiography - from what determines a " historical fact" and the great man theory of history to issues of morality/judgement and the role of causation in history. In the final section, Carr delves into the idea of "progress" and notes that "the fall of the West" may in fact be progress for the rest of the world - it's all a matter of perspective.

You can read this book in an hour or two. You'll...more
Michael
I read this book for an upper-division history course at college. To me it was much more interesting than I expected. Even though it was written in 1961, it raised aspects about history that I had not previously considered.

This section about the religiosity of the Middle Ages got my attention:

"Our picture (of history) has been pre-selected and predetermined for us, not so much by accident as by people who were consciously or unconsciously imbued with a particular view and thought the facts which...more
Pritam
After long delay, I finally got around to finishing this book. Although I had a few reservations- such as, whether time had made the work outdated- most of them were dispelled. I saw the book categorized under the label 'intellectual history' in some digital libraries, and understandably so. Carr's forays into the intellectual and philosophical traditions underpinning the writing and teaching of history makes for an illuminating critical journey. The frank manner in which Carr grapples with the...more
umberto
I think this seemingly small book demands a bit of patience and love of history in its pure sense and ideology from its readers, no matter what knowledge or experience they've had through their lives. One of the reasons is that, from its six chapters, you're reading a series of university lectures held in 1961 by a Fellow of Trinity College who, presumably, took them as part of serious history (coined by Polybius in his "The Rise of the Roman Empire", Penguin 1979), therefore, reading him is a b...more
Iain
"The prophets of woe have everything on their side. The picture of impending doom, sedulously drawn by sensational writers and journalists and transmitted through the media, has penetrated the vocabulary of everyday speech." Although written 1961, it could be about today. E. H. Carr's look at 'What is History' digs for the crux of how history is written a perceived. Although many references are dated, the Soviet Union is a constant reminder of this, it still delivers many salient points about th...more
Marc L

This book contains 6 lectures Carr gave, back in 1961. So, it has a certain stamp of time. But nevertheless, I was very pleased about the value of Carr's opinions. These treat about the methodology of the historic profession, as well as about the philosophical foundations of it. Carr is always subtle and very precise about the essence and the frontiers of historic writing. My only reservations treat about his view on accident in history and his formulation of objectivity. But his eloquent way of...more
Sense of  History
This book contains 6 lectures Carr gave, back in 1961. So, it has a certain stamp of time. But nevertheless, I was very pleased about the value of Carr's opinions. These treat about the methodology of the historic profession, as well as about the philosophical foundations of it. Carr is always subtle and very precise about the essence and the frontiers of historic writing. My only reservations treat about his view on accident in history and his formulation of objectivity. But his eloquent way of...more
Mary
Carr's lectures on his philosophy of history are somewhat aggravating to read. Near the beginning of each lecture/essay, he'll say something at odds with common sense. And then over the next 10 or 20 pages, you come to realize he didn't mean exactly what you thought he did, and perhaps he's not completely mad after all.

It occurred to me halfway through that we are now almost as far removed from Carr (speaking in 1961) as Carr was from the late 19th century/early 20th century historians whose phi...more
Vikas Garud
Quest to understand History..
Very apt definition of History-'History is a continous dialogue between past & present. '
Tara Van Beurden
I had to read this for that same subject I had to read A.J. P. Taylor for, Interpreting the Past. I passed the subject (I think) so yay for me! Basically looks at the evolution and definition of history. Obviously not as interesting as Taylor but I quite enjoy reading the more philosophical interpretations of the world, so I didn’t half mind it. Opened my eyes to a few things I hadn’t considered before which is always handy when I’m trying to argue history or philosophy with my nerdy, intellectu...more
Harpal
Man, a real sleeper of a book, but there are a couple of fantastic meditations on the subject of causation in history and hierarchy of explanation in history. Both of them are fascinating. The discussion on causation is one that I think we've all thought about ourselves, discussing the relative importance of proximate and underlying causes, as well as chains of causation and what importance each link in such a chain has. Really interesting stuff to think about, but the rest of the book is kind o...more
morning Os
Jan 26, 2008 morning Os rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: all history and social science students
Recommended to morning Os by: Assigned in Class
It discusses most common and important issues regarding the role of historians very clearly, eloquently, and succinctly. Very easy and fun to read. I read Carr's Twenty Years' Crisis first as a poli sci student years ago, but his take on historical studies and social science is much clearer after reading this book. Carr also gives nice and clear critique of the Marxist/Hegelian historical view, which is useful for those who are too lazy to read their original texts.
N.W. Martin
Welcome to the birth of social history as we know it. Perspectivism is fine. Carr was fine, but some historians take his ideology further than it should. Too many social histories skew the facts to help their cause and call upon Carr's view on perspectivism as a way to say that it is okay. As long as we don't take his view too far, this is a masterful work on Historiography.
Bookcase Jim
As a history buff, I had to read this even though it's not exactly a history book per se. What Carr addresses is the discipline of writing history and of interpreting it. Basically, he says, no historical account is unbiased because it is shaped by the author's times, mores, and even their personal views. I liked it and should probably read it again someday. That being said, I imagine that somebody's who's got no interest in history won't get through it.
Brenda
This was the first book I read at University for the 'Emergence of Modern Europe'. It's a great introduction to studying history. I know I was a bit nervous about remembering dates when I started at Uni as I was never very good at that - this book helped quash that fear. Carr emphasizes that it is not so important to study when Julius Ceaser crossed the Rubicon but to look at how this impacted on future events and current thinking.
Rick Kruijs
The fact that these chapters were originally written to be lectures makes them extremely clear, avoiding a more literary style of writing that might have made it a more difficult read. A short and easy yet fascinating and inspiring read!
Julio César
¡Qué librazo! Nunca pensé que la Historia fuera tan interesante, sobre todo bien explicada como el profesor Carr en esta serie de conferencias. Parece mentira que tenga 50 años este material, parece tan actual... Trata las cuestiones de la verdad, la objetividad, el individuo y la sociedad con una perspectiva muy útil para cualquier investigador de lo social. Aunque, como yo, no tengo una formación historiográfica.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 64 65 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • In Defence of 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
  • The Idea of History
  • The Pursuit of History
  • A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century
  • On History
  • That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (Ideas in Context)
  • Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
  • Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • History: A Very Short Introduction
  • The Making of the English Working Class
  • The Uses and Abuses of History
  • American Slavery, American Freedom
  • The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea
  • Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations
  • Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Studies in Environment and History)
  • Gender and the Politics of History
58528
E. H. Carr was a liberal realist and later left-wing British historian, journalist and international relations theorist, and an opponent of empiricism within historiography.

Carr was best known for his 14-volume history of the Soviet Union, in which he provided an account of Soviet history from 1917 to 1929, for his writings on international relations, and for his book What Is History?, in which he...more
More about Edward Hallett Carr...
The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939 The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23 (History of Soviet Russia, Vol 3) The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin 1917-1929 The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23, Vol 1 The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-23, Vol 2

Share This Book

“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts.” 6 likes
“History is the long struggle of man, by exercise of his reason, to understand his environment and to act upon it. But the modern period has broadened the struggle in a revolutionary way. Man now seeks to understand, and act on, not only his environment, but himself; and this has added, so to speak, a new dimension to reason and a new dimension to history.” 5 likes
More quotes…