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The Idea of History

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  224 ratings  ·  21 reviews
The Idea of History is the best-known work of the great Oxford philosopher, historian, and archaeologist R.G. Collingwood. It was originally published posthumously in 1946, having been mainly reconstructed from Collingwood's manuscripts, many of which are now lost. This important work examines how the idea of history has evolved from the time of Herodotus to the twentieth ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 22nd 1994 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1946)
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Varad
A book anyone who is - or pretends to be - a historian must read. That is not to say it will be easy for many historians to read, or that they will agree with its conclusions. It is a difficult work, a work of genuine philosophy; and Collingwood's conception of history seems to contradict much of what historians think about their craft and their subject.

The first part of the book is taken up with Collingwood's account of the development of history as an entity in its own right, that is one with
...more
PM Richard
As emotional and subjective beings we never simply look to raw history, rather, we look to history and think about history through our own presuppositional lenses. Collingwood calls this the second degree of reflective philosophy. We typically think about the thoughts that we are having about history. In other words, we tend to interpret history through our cultural environments. What we highlight and what we see in history is dictated by our cultural, anthropological and philosophy of history.

T
...more
Mark Bowles
Genesis of the book
1. During the 1st 6 months of 1936 Collingwood wrote 36 essays on the philosophy of history. These essay's fell into 2 parts;
a) The historical account of the modern idea of history from Herodotus to the 20th century
b) Metaphysical epilegomena: philosophical reflections on the nature, subject-matter, and method of history.
2. He began to work on the book epilogemena in 1939 during his stay in java.
3. In 1940 he began to revise a part of the 1936 manuscript and renamed it The Ide
...more
Brett Green
Need to read this again. A lot of good food for thought for people just getting started in philosophy, esp philosophy of history. A quarter of the text or so covers developments in how older periods/cultures conceived history, ending up with the Germans/Hegel. He then dives into prominent 19th and 20th century thought on the matter, divvying up English, German, and French thought in the process. There are then a few essays of his own where he explicitly covers his own "idea" of history.

I read th
...more
Alex
Reads much more modern than 1936 in my opinion... well, until you get to the parts where C recommends getting into your chosen people's heads to reenact the past.

The historical part is kind of a fun philosophical and wooly ride, and so's the murder mystery in the epilogue.
Julie
This book changed my apprehension of the historical process. Collingwood's presentation is an architecture in thinking about history as a philosophy, as a craft and as an idea. His presentation of the major thinkers in the realms of history and of philosophy has him fitting the forebears of thought into a larger geometry of which functions as a set of records in the architecture of the past. This past so designed presently and actively is descended to us by forming a structure for history to res ...more
Matt
As emotional and subjective beings we never simply look to raw history, rather, we look to history and think about history through our own presuppositional lenses. Collingwood calls this the second degree of reflective philosophy. We typically think about the thoughts that we are having about history. In other words, we tend to interpret history through our cultural environments. What we highlight and what we see in history is dictated by our cultural, anthropological and philosophy of history.

T
...more
Sam
Nov 03, 2010 Sam rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sam by: Dr. Gamble's Philosophy of History
Incredibly heady analysis of what history is. Only read the three essays at the end. Lots of good thoughts on what it means to "recapture" history and what the limits of history are. Interesting concept that the past is not actual, merely ideal, and that to study the past we must study the present, whether in the form of sources, archaeology, etc. We can only work our way closer to a more ideal version of the past...we never have "the past as it actually was." All history is the history of thoug ...more
Kersplebedeb
While the main text of this book - a history of historical thought in "the western world" - really serves as an extended prequel to the epilogema, it's still worth reading if only to get used to Collingwood's style and lingo.

The epilogema is where the real fun begins, as Collingwood puts forward his main argument, namely that history is only concerned with the actions of specific agents (either individuial or collective), and more than that real history (as opposed to pseudo-history or cut-and-p
...more
Ryan
My favorite excerpt...
"To quote Kant: 'Man desires concord; but nature knows better what is good for his species.' Man wants to live easy and content; but nature compels him to leave ease and inactive contentment behind, and throw himself into toils and labours in order that these may drive him to use his wits in the discovery of means to rise above them. Nature, that is to say, does not care for human happiness; she has implanted in man propensities to sacrifice his own happiness and destroy th
...more
Jeremy
This is pretty interesting. Collingwood seems like on of the first historians to really utilize ideas from evolutionary theory and modern psychology in his ideas about history. He manages to create a view of history that is centered on the individual attempting to inhabit and understand the mental states of the past, and while I have some major issues with that, the way he structures it feels nuanced and genuine instead of cheaply nostalgic. And sometimes out of the blue he will just throw out a ...more
Leah
"history is historically contingent" -- surely a revolutionary thesis in it's time (1946) -- now feels a bit like old news.

The writing is exceedingly clear and analytical, which maybe says something interesting about the necessity of high-falutin syntax for the promulgation of said revolutionary thesises.
Deena
Do they still require undergrads in history to read this? I thought it wasn't too great in 1988, and even reading it again more than a decade later, I'm still not impressed. I would have benefitted so much more from a solid research "how to" text than this jargon.
Lora
I identified with this bit: "The work of collecting sources is as endless as is the work of interpreting them, and therefore every narrative that we can at any given moment put forward is only an interim report on the progress of our historical inquiries."
Bethany Stoelting
Intriguing to analyze, albeit tedious and slow to read. Well worth the effort, but remember to keep an open mind and explore other history philosophies, too, in order to gain a thorough appreciation of Collingwood.
Geoff
When I read this as a junior in college it made me want to go to graduate school. One of these days I'll return to it and see if I still think it deserves five stars...
Shahenshah
A great articulation for the Study of History. And he does not divorce History from other studies.
María Eugenia
antiguo pero necesario a la hora de ordenar algunos conceptos.
Sally
I did not find his views or arguments convincing; not very practical.
Tausif
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Robin George Collingwood was an English philosopher and historian. Collingwood was a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, for some 15 years until becoming the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford.
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“Thus natural science is not a way of knowing the real world; its value lies not in its truth but in its utility; by scientific thought we do not know nature, we dismember it in order to master it.” 2 likes
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