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What Is History?

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  1,940 Ratings  ·  114 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 02, 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
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
David Sarkies
Dec 20, 2011 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
Jun 14, 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 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 an accurat
Oct 10, 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
Yavar Moshirfar
Dec 31, 2016 Yavar Moshirfar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
تاریخ چیست کار یکی از برجسته ترین آثار در زمینه «فهم تاریخ» است. کار در کتابش استدلال میکند تاریخ بشر مملو از وقایعی است که پیش چشم اکثریت روی داده اند، حال آن که تاریخ باید دربرگیرنده همه وقایع تا حد امکان باشد. ازاین دیدگاه کار به تفکر سیستمی در بررسی های تاریخ اشاره اجمالی می کند، هر چند به طور اخص به آن نمی پردازد. مهم ترین و جدی ترین بحث کار در «تاریخ تکرار نمی شود» و استدلال قدرتمند وی در این زمینه است .در ضمن کار به خوبی در مورد نحوه تأثیر تفکر مورخ بر تاریخ و نحوه تأثیر تاریخ بر تفکر مور ...more
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.
Nov 11, 2011 4triplezed rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I kinda of liked it. It is a bit repetitive at times, and I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with Carr though that should not matter.
bahareh ebnealian
May 01, 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 22, 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 15, 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
Kira Simion
(In the Read list and On-Hold list because I cheated and read a study guide that sums this up. Whoops. )


What is it?

It isn't the past....but in a way it is. It's just an interpretation of parts of the past that we find "significant" enough to interpret from others' words and write about in our own. Really only historians to that. (Excuse me for my bluntness. Remember I didn't read the real book. Will come back and read it later if I feel up to it).

This is all about the question of: Wh
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
Oct 10, 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
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
Yanko Tsvetkov
May 15, 2015 Yanko Tsvetkov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my ideal utopian world everyone is interested in history and this book is on everybody's favorite list. In our less ideal world, this book can still be read by anyone and, for the intellectual snob trapped in all of us, there is at least one brilliant and easily quotable insight per page. I'm not sure the author had Twitter in mind when he wrote this book (it's actually a series of lectures from the 1960s) but his concise witticisms look deliberately crafted for our Soundbite Age. Just for th ...more
Georgina Koutrouditsou
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.
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.
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!
Jul 11, 2012 Dharmabum marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shelved
Its a tough read and I have just started
Jan 31, 2017 Avneet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'All history is the history of thoughts,' says Edward Hallett Carr. The book is meant to change one's perceptions on history. What after all is history? As the title, so is the content. A mingling and gameplay of all those historical facts, of the environment of the historian, the society, Sciences, ethics and mortality of history, objectification in History, the cause and effect relationship, History as a 'progressive science' and the ever growing discipline since the time of its conception fin ...more
Chanhee Lee
Mar 03, 2017 Chanhee Lee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
역사를 보는 관점에 대해 생각해볼만한 시사점을 많이 던져주는 책. 역사를 어떻게 평가할 수 있을 것인가? 개개의 다른 시각을 어떤 관점에서 평가할 수 있을 것인가에 대한 Carr의 대답이 흥미롭다.
Feb 03, 2017 Ali rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, history
تقریبا به جز مقاله اول که به رابطه بین "مورخ و واقعیاتی که در اختیار دارد" می پردازد، مابقی مقالات ارزش چندانی ندارد و بر کج فهمی و برداشت گزینشی از آثار دیگر فلاسفه و خوشبینی ساده لوحانه به آینده تاریخ بشر استوار است. پروفسور کار تحت تاثیر نظریات مردم شناسان میانه قرن بیستم است و معتقد است "مورخی که از محیط خود آگاهی کامل دارد بهتر می تواند بر آن فائق گردد...". تلاش وی برای رده بندی تاریخ در ذیل دیگر علوم حاکی از عدم آشنایی وی با تمایزات مابین علوم طبیعی و اجتماعی و تمایز باریک دیگر شاخه های عل ...more
Sep 16, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Silvio Curtis
Mar 28, 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
Jon Arnold
Jun 07, 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
A. J. McMahon
Apr 05, 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
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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
  • A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century
  • Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought
  • On History
  • Telling the Truth About History
  • The Uses and Abuses of History
  • Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe
  • The Whig Interpretation of History
  • Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge
  • Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern
  • Re-thinking History
  • Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations
  • To the Finland Station
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.” 20 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.” 9 likes
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