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What Is History?

3.84  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,696 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
Based on The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures delivered at University of Cambridge, January-March 1961.

This edition includes new material which presents the major conclusions of Professor Carr's notes for the second edition and a new preface by the author, in which he calls for 'a saner and more balanced outlook on the future'.

Edward Hallett Carr (1892-1982) was a histo
Paperback, 188 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Penguin (first published 1961)
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Sep 10, 2015 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy-essay
This 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 Heg ...more
David Sarkies
Jul 09, 2015 David Sarkies rated it liked it  ·  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
Mar 25, 2009 Seán rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009, history
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
Jul 16, 2010 Jackie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Objective Reality

Let me begin by stating my personal hardline objectivist viewpoint: There is only one single objective reality. Either some event in the past happened, or it did not. Someone’s opinion does not change that fact. For example, on January 10, 49 BC Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with some of his soldiers. Or he did not. There is only one correct answer.

The Hard Truth about Historical Facts

So is the job of the historian is simply to collect up all the objective facts, and a
Dec 09, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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
bahareh ebnealian
May 02, 2008 bahareh ebnealian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
عجب کتاب محشریه ! فلسفهی تاریخه و به یک معنا فلسفهی علوم اجتماعی. در ضمن اینکه سنگین نیست میتونه نگاه آدم رو به تاریخ، واقعیت و... عوض کنه
Jul 27, 2010 Allen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Herman Gigglethorpe
Jun 18, 2012 Herman Gigglethorpe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Ricardo Ribeiro
Dec 15, 2012 Ricardo Ribeiro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 02, 2014 RK-ique rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
I first read What is History as part of a philosophy of history class. I believe that the course was given by Aristotle and the book was written on papyrus. I recall being less critical of it at that time in any case. I would still suggest it as a good introduction to issues in historiography. I would, however, suggest caution in taking Carr at face value. He has numerous axes to grind and theories to support.

My major criticism is that he seems to have been a bit disingenuous in putting his arg
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
May 17, 2010 Hong rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2008 Gregg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jon Arnold
Jun 09, 2015 Jon Arnold rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Going back to re-read old university textbooks for fun must be a sign of incipient nostalgia for the lost days of youth. That or masochism. I didn’t get a nostalgic buzz (possibly as I was young and foolish enough to think I could get away by essentially skimming it) but reading it with age and experience was far more rewarding than giving it to an intellectually arrogant 19 year old.

Carr’s initial question is the springboard for six essays, transcribed from a series of lectures. It’s a musing o
Georgina Coutroud
Ένας μεγάλος Δάσκαλος,ένα σπουδαίο βιβλίο.
Γραμμένο τη δεκαετία του '60 και όμως τόσο επίκαιρο!
"Μετά τον Μαρξ & τον Φρόυντ,ο ιστορικός δεν έχει πια καμία δικαιολογία να θεωρεί τον εαυτό του αποστασιοποιημένο παρατηρητή,εκτός κοινωνίας και εκτός ιστορίας.Ζούμε τον αιώνα της αυτοσυνείδησης και ο ιστορικός μπορεί και πρέπει να ξέρει τι κάνει."
Τι άλλο να προσθέσει κανείς;!
Μπορεί να μην είναι ένα πολυσέλιδο έργο,παρ'όλα αυτά διαβάζεται αργά και αρκετά προσεχτικά.
A. J. McMahon
Apr 11, 2016 A. J. McMahon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Carr's book tackles questions such as what constitutes historical fact, how do historians go about the act of interpretation, how does the process of being conditioned by the present affect how we look at the past, what causes can be ascribed to historical events, and so on and so forth. He is moderately articulate, hard-working and sincere, but nothing he says can save him from being such a pompous and self-important rationalist. He has such an advanced case of academicitis that the real world ...more
Silvio Curtis
Apr 03, 2016 Silvio Curtis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A quick read for an academic book, maybe because it originated as a lecture series. The topic is what I would call the philosophy of history - generalizations about how historians can or should work. Raises several questions but generally avoids definitive conclusions. Whether history is a science and the role of individuals, society-wide factors, and chance in causing historical change are two questions that come up more than once and are discussed thoughtfully but inconclusively; whether there ...more
Jan 24, 2016 Vaida rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-nonfiction
Truputį senstelėjusi (pirmasis leidimas 1961 m.), bet nepakartojamu britišku stiliumi parašyta knygelė, kurios stipriausia (ir aktualiausia) dalis, mano nuomone, yra paaiškinimas, KAS NĖRA ISTORIJA. Štai pagrindinės gairės.
- Istorija nėra "subjektyvaus proto kūrinys".
- Dar mažiau ji yra "patikrintų faktų rinkinys" (nes tokiu atveju, kaip pirkėjas renkasi žuvis ant žuvų pardavėjo prekystalio, taip istorikas išsirinktų faktus iš dokumentų, juos parsineštų namo, išvirtų ir pateiktų labiausiai jam
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.
Carr's classic text on history looks at several key subjects, based on the six lectures given. The first is the debate over what constitutes a 'fact' in history, and what the relationship is between a historian and his/her facts. The second analyses the role of individuals in history (as opposed to broad historical forces), while the third looks at the uses of history to make moral assessments. The fourth is on causality in history, while the fifth looks at the idea of history as progress. The f ...more
Sep 07, 2015 Sambasivan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. E H Carr is a legendary historian who disects the various dimensions of what history is all about. Is it subjective or objective ? Is it fact or interpretation? What is the importance of judgment? How does one select what events constitute history and which ones do not? How does the historian interpret the 'why' of historical events? How much of bias does the historian bring to the narrative ? Is history progress? Is the scope of history widen ...more
Aug 20, 2012 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this for a class, but it is an extremely useful book form an outside on history and historiography!
Andy V
Jun 24, 2016 Andy V rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"History is written by the winners" - George Orwell

"The historian is necessarily selective. The belief in a hardcore of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which is very hard to eradicate." - E.H. Carr

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? This age old philosophical question springs to mind. Of course this is only scratches the surface. For the rest, you'll have to read t
Read this for the same reason you would read Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Its extremely eloquent and flat out beautiful in its prose at times. E H Carr was a leading man in the historical field in the mid 20th century. He treads a middle line between empiricism and idealism. To quote from a review 'Arguably the central ideas in the book constitute today's mainstream thinking on British historical practice'.
Rob Mills
Jul 14, 2015 Rob Mills rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was book was on my younger brother's high school reading list and somehow found a way onto my bookshelf. The book is actually a compilation of lectures made by a historian of renown to the history society of Cambridge.
Appropriately, it's an intellectual thought piece where Carr considers what a historian's purpose in society is, whether history should be revised and whether it should be optimistic.
He makes some insightful observations on how society and the historian interact, how facts can
Hakan İlker
Oct 11, 2014 Hakan İlker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Adam fena şekilde Marksçı çıktı. Elbette bu bir deneme kitabı. Neci olduğu beni bağlamaz, fakat bazı yerlerde saçma sapan felsefecilere ve diğer tarihçilere yüklenmesi -yazarın kendisinin ne bir filozof ne de bir tarihçi olmasına rağmen- gülünç geldi. 'Evet sevgili ezik tarihçiler, sizin şu şu görüşünüz saçma ötesi bu şu şu şekilde olmalı' triplerinde yazdığı burnu havada cümleler dışında iyiydi kitap. Düşünceleri havadan kaptım size sundum tarzında değil akla ve mantığa uygun şekilde temellendi ...more
Max Nova
Mar 09, 2014 Max Nova rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Hessa Almutairi
Oct 25, 2015 Hessa Almutairi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, تاريخ

للمؤرخ إدوارد كار

الكتاب قريته برمضان، ونسيت ماأكتب عنه

يتناول الكاتب عدة اشياء مهمة
منها (
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  • 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 Idea of History
  • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
  • The Pursuit of History
  • That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession
  • On History
  • Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
  • Telling the Truth About History
  • The Whig Interpretation of History
  • A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century
  • The Uses and Abuses of History
  • Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History
  • History: A Very Short Introduction
  • Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern
  • Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge
  • Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations
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 about Edward Hallett Carr...

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“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts.” 15 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.” 8 likes
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