Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What Is History?” as Want to Read:
What Is History?
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What Is History?

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,065 ratings  ·  197 reviews
Mass Market Paperback, 209 pages
Published October 12th 1967 by Vintage Books (first published 1961)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What Is History?, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Mlong225 Carr, E.H. What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961. New York: Alfred A. K…moreCarr, E.H. What is History? The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,065 ratings  ·  197 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What Is History?
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 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
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
Sense of History
This book contains 6 lectures E.H. Carr (1892-1982) gave, back in 1961 at the University of Cambridge. So, you surely can say it is a bit outdated. But nevertheless, I was very pleased about the value of Carr's opinions. These handle the methodology of the historic profession, as well as the philosophical foundations of it.

Carr was a practicing diplomat, but he also published extensively on Russian and Soviet history. So he combined a profound interest in the theory of historical studies with h
Jun 14, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 11, 2011 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.
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown
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
Ricardo Ribeiro
Dec 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
I am not sure how I am going to be able to review this, albeit short (52 pages out of 177 contain EH Carrs lecture - the rest being several prefaces, notes and an index) and quite heavy take on the stated subject. I had to read this many years ago when I was studying and did not get on that well with it then - and being a glutton for punishment that I am, I thought I would re-read it and may just appreciate it. Wrong. It is not that academic, EH Carr writes well, but it is heavy and again I was ...more
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly a classic. "The abstract standard or value, divorced from society and divorced from history, is as much an illusion as the abstract individual" (p.84). And, as Lenin said, politics begins where the masses are - in the places where we are. ...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
Martin Empson
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
My enthusiasm for this book is about more than its charm. Marxists and others will be able to pick holes in Carr's arguments, but no serious student of history (of any political persuasion) can afford to ignore the ideas and arguments herein. This is a stimulating and enjoyable book that will make every reader think through their own ideas. It is to be recommended.

Full review:
Apr 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Still an impressive read. See my more elaborate review in my Sense-of-History-account: ...more
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great work of philosophy of history which discusses how and why history can never be an objective set of facts strung together by a historian. The historian is influenced by their society and in choosing their thesis show us what they feel is important, what they feel must be remembered.

The author traces the journey of history from the era of scientific general laws to the rise of conservatism and a mass predilection among historians in the western world to not rock the boat, and ends with a
Jul 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

May 17, 2010 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
Herman Gigglethorpe
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Eric Pecile
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever considered entering the historical profession or are having difficulty finding yourself within it, this is the essential book to read if you want to situate historical methods and practices in time.
forgot to add: this was my u survey history text. the professor who taught it ran for election as a communist...
Joseph Stieb
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really more like a 4.5 star, this is a classic and still highly relevant exploration of the nature of the historical discipline and its various roles. It is written in an accessible way, although Carr does that old school academic thing of working his way to a conclusion slowly and steadily over the course of each chapter/lecture.

Probably the most valuable service this book provides it its history of the idea of history and how historians have thought. Carr says that to exist in historical time
Matthew Fuller
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Compelling and readable.

At times dated (the historian is always 'he', for example), although even this, in some way only adds to Carr's arguement: history is a constantly moving process, it's purpose is to promote a more profound understanding of both past and present through an interaction of the two. The historian is not, and cannot be, any less of a product of their time and lived experiences than those whom they study.

Carr's arguments are obviously affected by the period he is writing in (
Patrik Sahlstrøm
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dry as kindlewood, but brilliant book that provides much food for thought. Not only relevant for the historian, but also a book that ought to be read by anyone wanting to express views about politics without sounding like an utter fool. Lightyears ahead of it's time it is a scathing condemnation of people wanting to make "Country X great again" and those who think that change is inheritently dangerous. In short this book is a steeltipped boot firmly planted in the nuts of middle-aged and elderly ...more
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I had to read this in my first year of uni. For some reason it resonated with me. Fast forward 35 years later I still have it so I thought to reread it. It's a series of lectures Carr gave, and it reads like it. My eyes have glazed over at many points, but it still makes you stop and think about history, how it is written, who writes it, and how the social norms and morals of the times affect the history you are reading. A hard slog to get through at times, but if you catch the little messages a ...more
Gallifrey Lawler
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I don't read enough non-fiction and this collection of lectures was a deeply interesting, and to be honest a little above my grade level, look into what makes up the fabric of historiography. I have been deeply inspired by E.H. Carr's insight on how history is constructed and the people who govern it. This book has become a cornerstone in my library and what I've learnt from it will affect how I study history from here on out. ...more
Matthew Jelfs
Interesting, informative, readable, fantastically argued; whilst also not without its critics, outdated, and naive at times. Essential reading in the study of historiography, with an excellent introduction by Richard J. Evans. 100% recommended to anyone interested in history as a discipline.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this is brilliant and should be required reading for all history students
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating to read this work, written in 1961, in light of today’s events.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Apa itu Sejarah ?? 1 4 Mar 31, 2019 06:57AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Historian's Craft: Reflections on the Nature and Uses of History and the Techniques and Methods of Those Who Write It.
  • In Defense of History
  • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
  • History: A Very Short Introduction
  • The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848
  • On History
  • Re-thinking History
  • The Idea of History
  • The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991
  • The Return of Martin Guerre
  • Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism
  • Turkey: A Modern History
  • The Theatre of the Absurd
  • Kim Var İmiş Biz Burada Yoğ İken
  • The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
  • The Age of Capital, 1848-1875
  • Reform or Revolution
  • The Uses and Abuses of History
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

  Some people love books. Some people fall in love. And some people love books about falling in love. Every month our team sorts through...
30 likes · 7 comments
“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts.” 40 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.” 15 likes
More quotes…