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History: A Very Short Introduction
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History: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions #16)

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  444 ratings  ·  46 reviews
There are many stories we can tell about the past, and we are not, perhaps, as free as we might imagine in our choice of which stories to tell, or where those stories end. John Arnold's Very Short Introduction is an essay about how we study and understand history. It begins by inviting us to think about various questions provoked by our investigation of history, and explor ...more
Paperback, 137 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2000)
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I assign (and re-read) this every year for the class I teach in historical methods, and I always find new aspects of it to admire. Arnold models how to be concise without being superficial.
W.E. Linde
I'm just starting a Masters program in History, and I found Arnold's Short History an excellent introduction into the historian's craft. For what it sets out to do, it really should be rated 5 stars. The books breaks down, at a high level, the evolution of historiography, but always reminds the student/reader that the varied contemporary methodologies, although different than what we would use today, often had the same goals: the portrayal of historic truth. (That's not to say that history hasn' ...more
Sense of  History
I really enjoyed reading this little book, because it is beautifully written in the first place, but also because I like the author’s point of view on the relativity of the historians profession. The past is a foreign country, there are no self-evident truths to find in there, so an historian can only do his best at telling a true story. A story, because he’s on his own to make “sense of that mess, finding or creating patterns and meanings and stories from the maelstrom”, but also telling a true ...more
Reading this 7-chapter book “History: A Very Short Introduction” by John H. Arnold is informative and inspiring due to his narrations that explore deeper and better understanding in the field, for instance, on historiography defined as “the process of writing history” (p. 5), especially past historiography that is to be used “as a comparison to what we do now, and as a reminder that if history, as a subject, has changed over time, it may yet change again.” (p. 16).
Jan 21, 2010 Mitzi is currently reading it
I'm reading this for's actually really interesting so far. I'm kind of wanting to get other books of this style to read "short little introductions" to everything
Arnold gives a good practical guide with concrete examples, demonstrating the joy of historical discovery and reliable reconstruction of the past. He surveys the history of history, rejecting scientific approach of Leopold von Ranke ("only to say how it really was") while trying to navigate away from the pure relativism of private stories.

Arnold rejects the concept of "Truth" as an illusion of certainty, but clings to "truth" as fidelity to the sources (56). But, I ask, who determines that? Arn
Jan 12, 2011 Bri rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves history
Recommended to Bri by: Read for a class.
I wrote this review for class:

With History: A Very Short Introduction, John H. Arnold brings up several important issues that all students of history should consider as they both read history as written by others and as they conduct their own historical research. Throughout the text, Arnold uses examples both from historical events and the writings of well-known historians to examine the varying purposes history has served over time. Arnold’s primary intent seems to lie in demonstrating the simi
I had to read this for my History of Human Rights class. Arnold discusses and analyzes history and its history. He writes how history has evolved over time, what historians do, and why history is important. For the most part it was interesting to read and changed my view on history. I learned a lot from this book and Arnold brought up some fascinating points to ponder. However, I feel that he tried to hard to make this book complicated and intellectual. He ended up repeating a lot of things and ...more
A quick to read and well written book about the crafting of history. John Arnold explains the difference between history of the past itself and history as what historians write about the past. In his book he discusses historiography as the process of writing about history and history as the end product of that process.

An excellent introduction for anyone interested in researching and writing about history and for readers of history writers to develop a greater appreciation of the the myriad and
Hard for me to rate this one, because as clearly and enthusiastically as it is written, I personally struggle to engage with the subject. History I find interesting, but the study of it does nothing for me.

I thought I'd try this book, as I find the Short Introduction series can be handy for diving into an area quickly without committing too much. But it took me 2-3 months to get through because I never fancied picking it up again. I simply didn't engage with the subject matter.

However, if you ar
Jade Lauron
A very dense read for me; it really made me think about how history is written, and parts of it I went over twice to make sure I fully understood what I was reading. (This was in part because, at times, I stopped to look up things and then would have to go back and read that section over because I'd lost the train of thought.) I think I would have LIKED the entire subject of history more if I had thought about these things before I had to study all those stupid dates and facts in school. We neve ...more
Marc L
A very short introduction, indeed, but also brilliant! This is clearly the work of a historian with experience. Arnold clearly has enough insight into the theoretical context of the historical profession, but he is down-to-earth enough to see the downside of too much theory.
Not a bad little intro to the study of history. They probably should have told me to read this before my degree program started. Early in the semester I had to pretend to know about lots of names mentioned in this book, and had I read this ahead of time there would have been no need for such a charade. Arnold has a nice dry, witty British style to his writing, and he illustrates his points about changes in historiography with compelling little microhistorical stories. If you ever have a plane ri ...more
Lauren Langford
Really great book if you are struggling with the purpose of history in the modern age and how to approach your projects from a research perspective.
A fantastic introduction to History, full of interesting historical instances that allow inspiration for research.
Todd Stansbury
Cleverly written and a nice easy read. I think even someone not studying history would enjoy this. If you are studying history. And especially historiography, it's a lovely introduction (or reminder because some of it is a refresher) for the problems that can arise when trying to do history.
Though it was far more entertaining than your typical textbook, the material was elusive.
Brian Leport
A very good, short introduction to historiography.
One of the best overviews of history books I've read.
A mostly interesting, brief overview of historiography. Arnold begins each chapter with an attention-grabbing story, then uses the story to illustrate that chapter's point about how history is done. Do we concentrate on political history, or perhaps the history of the middle class or the peasants, for example, or do we chose one thread to follow when a story might fit into several different approaches? How do we find the truth? Very nice overview for those who read lots of history and would like ...more
Henri Tournyol du Clos
Written for dimwits, obviously by one of them.
death. this book is death.
Russell Petcoff
A good quick summary of historiography. Arnold uses practical examples to show how historians conduct their craft. Only complaint was writing history is about using verified truth. Arnold violates that by noting he once heard about homeless people sleeping among the stacks in a New York City library. While that may be true, unless he can verify that it's hearsay. Nit-picking, I know, but unfortunate it occurred in a book of this subject. Other than that I really enjoyed the book.
Daniel Wright
As you would expect, this book is far to short to give an overall "history of the world", so if that is what you want, don't bother. What the author does do is provide a history of the study of history, as well as (in particular) an analysis of the general principles of historical study, accompanied by a few vignettes of 'stuff that has happened'. To that extent, this book is certainly worth reading, although somewhat dry.
I remember why I only pretended to read this in college. It's short, but boring and confusing. I had to keep going back and rereading stuff and I think I fell asleep a few times. It didn't even really have much history in it, it was really a book on how to be a historian and why we should record stuff. I used to be able to count all my regrets on one hand, reading this book just spilled me over onto 2. BOO :(
Had to read it for a History class. Arnold does a fairly good job of keeping the reader interested with intriguing stories from history while extolling on the history of history and what concepts must be approached while studying history. Thought provoking in some regards and would recommend it to any student of history. It isn't a long book but does provide insight necessary to the field of history.
I really like this series. Short, sharp, argumentative, provocative, and engaging. her are too many introductions to around that say the same old thing – but this is a tight and well written piece that shows just how exciting History can, and why I continue to call myself a historian. Top flight, not that I agree with all of it – but it is an argument!
A good introduction to the process of history and historiography. Recommended: students of this discipline (I read this for my History 100 class); anyone interested in the history of history (for lack of a better phrase -- I mean the differences in how historians from ancient times up through to the present viewed the practice of history).
Apr 07, 2012 Don rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
Hey, I get it ... Historians need a history and philosophy to struggle with as much as anybody else does. But I didn't read this for a class, I read it for fun. My bad. I just found it all too, too -- what, a mix of "inside baseball" and "highbrow historian." In a word: "Boring."
Very good overview of what history is and means. Nothing new to me. As a non historian and non academic, where did I learn all this stuff? A lot seemed obvious but I doubt most Americans understand that history is not absolute and there are different ways to tell every story.
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“History is above all else an argument. It is an argument between different historians; and, perhaps, an argument between the past and the present, an argument between what actually happened, and what is going to happen next. Arguments are important; they create the possibility of changing things.” 4 likes
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