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What Is History?

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  2,469 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Since its first publication in 1961 E.H. Carr's What is History? has established itself as the classic introduction to the subject. Ranging across topics such as historical objectivity, society and the individual, the nature of causation, and the possibility of progress, Carr delivered an incisive text that still has the power to provoke debate today. For this fortieth ann ...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Penguin (first published 1961)
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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.…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)
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3.90  · 
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 ·  2,469 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Sep 02, 2015 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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2009
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
Oct 10, 2014 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
Jun 14, 2010 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
Ricardo Ribeiro
Dec 15, 2012 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 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.
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
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  ·  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
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
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
Jul 22, 2010 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
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
forgot to add: this was my u survey history text. the professor who taught it ran for election as a communist...
Patrik Sahlstrøm
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan Cornelis
This book can be read in two parts. The first part looks into the material that creates history. Carr looks into the relation between 'facts of the past', 'historical facts' and 'interpretation'. By relating past historians to their specific context he argues that history is never a valuefree process but always colored by the relation between past, present and future.

The second part of the book can be read as a motivational speech for using reason and the believe in progress to improve society
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
May 03, 2008 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
Sense of  History
This book contains 6 lectures Carr gave, back in 1961. 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 is always subtle and very precise about the essence and the limits of historic writing. I have some issues with his view on accidents in history and his formulation of what objectivity can be. But for his eloquent way ...more
Yanko Tsvetkov
May 15, 2015 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
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was the definition of a dry read. I read this for a graduate class, and my purpose in reading the book was to try and develop an understanding of how we think about research and the past. I did feel like the book made me examine how historians look at the past, I don't think there was anything in this book that I have not thought about before.

I have to admit that this book was published in 1961 and my guess is that its target audience was other academic historians. Perhaps my rating is unfa
Eric Pecile
Nov 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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 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 07, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm still mad at my HS history teacher for assigning this.
Still an impressive read. See my more elaborate review in my Sense-of-History-account:
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Apa itu Sejarah ?? 1 2 Mar 31, 2019 06:57AM  

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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
“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts.” 27 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.” 14 likes
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