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In Defense of History

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  1,021 ratings  ·  75 reviews
E. H. Carr's What Is History?, a classic introduction to the field, may now give way to a worthy successor. In his compact, intriguing survey, Richard J. Evans shows us how historians manage to extract meaning from the recalcitrant past. To materials that are frustratingly meager, or overwhelmingly profuse, they bring an array of tools that range from agreed-upon rules of ...more
Paperback, 287 pages
Published January 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 1997)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Dec 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Historiography
Shelves: history
What’s best known about this book is Evans’s defense of history from postmodernism. But what’s interesting for us amateur readers of history is his general discussion of the many ways history is done. The book has a 12-page introduction and confines footnotes to the back, making it easier to read.

The author asks what history really is. Is it simply a record of politics? Of vast, impersonal forces? Of thought? Should historians stop looking for causes and concentrate on consequences? What does i
Sense of History
I know few social environments where the toes are more sensitive than in academic circles. The massive controversy this book has aroused amongst British historians proves it once again. Richard Evans, distinguished professor of history at Cambridge, published it in 1997. It is a bit of a half-hearted attempt to write a new synthesis of where the study of history stands for, thirty years after the classics in that department by E. H. Carr and G.R. Elton.

Evans places himself more or less in the m
In a genre over-populated by blinkered (not to say ignorant)and choleric conservative enemies of some ill-defined "postmodernism", Evans' book stands out as a balanced and thoughtful look at what History as a discipline is and should be. I took a doctorate in History long ago, and I still believe with Evans that knowledge (some, not all) about the past is accessible and that there are professional techniques for recovering, arranging,and presenting the past that are both valuable and effective. ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an engaging work if you’re really interested in the theory and philosophy of history. Evans tackles almost every classic issue the study of history has to deal with: can we reach the past? Is an objective account possible? How important is causation? What’s the role of individuals? Etc. He builds on the work of E.H. Carr and G.R. Elton, but also corrects them. His plea for a moderate application of classic historical methods brings him in conflict with postmodernism. This philosophical c ...more
Sean Gainford
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great defence of history and a great defense of the truth

Somehow postmodernist theory has gotten into the main stream of academia. Their grand, intricate, convoluted theories, that when applied, actually don't work, are being preached by English Literature teachers and cultural and critical theorist to young eager minds in university who unfortunately don't know any better and soak up the information. These postmodernist theorists are creating an atmosphere of nihilism, where young people have
Katia N
Interesting topics and fluent writing. But "The Defence of the History" has quickly turned into the defence of the professional historians from the post-modernists, not always very convincing, imho. Also the relativism is represented by the critique of Carr 'What is history?" And sometimes I felt it would be just better to read that book instead. Overall, not a bad book on historiography worth reading, but slightly dated and it did not impressed me like Twilight of the history. ...more
Jul 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Richard Evans’ In Defense of History is, according the author’s introductory claims, a work of reflection on the state of the profession written by an active professional. In this way, it ostensibly mirrors earlier works by E.H. Carr and Geoffrey Elton, both of whom the author often cites. It becomes rapidly clear, however, that the author’s primary intention is to respond to the formidable challenge to history as a discipline presented by now well known postmodern criticism.
Evans spends much
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Richard J. Evans’ In Defence of History is an attack on the influence of postmodernism on the practice of history. What makes it interesting is that in this case the attack is coming from the Left.

What makes it even more interesting is that Evans is not even particularly hostile to postmodernism. His argument is that although postmodernism can offer the historian some useful insights and techniques there is a very real danger of throwing away the baby with the bath water. If historians abandon t
Bill Kupersmith
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book by the emeritus Regius Professor of Modern History agreeable and sensible, but a trifle disappointing. In my days as a member of the English Department, I found my colleagues in History both enviable and arrogant in the way they closed ranks against what they regarded as less rigorous disciplines like mine. It was delightful to find that the great Ranke learned his method from literatary studies, then called Philology. But Evans skates very lightly for good reason as he is ofte ...more
Abigail Hartman
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Building on (and updating) the debate between E. H. Carr and G. R. Elton about the nature of history and historical research, Evans presents a balanced argument that acknowledges both the objectivity of truth and the subjectivity of the historian. His satirical comments about a number of other historians (especially die-hard postmodernists) are hilarious; nevertheless, his work really is evenhanded. He points out the contributions of different "schools" of historians, including the relativists, ...more
Marcus Pailing
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. Eloquently written.
I would have given this three stars, because it is very complex at times and Evans' argument isn't quite as clearly put as I would have liked (largely because I struggle with the whole concept of Postmodernism, and he doesn't really explain it well). However, the withering afterword, when he demolishes the critics of the first edition of the book, makes it worthy of four stars!
Simon Mcleish
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Originally published on my blog here in March 2001.

It may seem that investigation into the past ought to be a straightforward business, but history has been subject to a crisis of self-definition over a considerable period of time. Indeed, this has been part of the discipline from its very start, at least to some extent, as the notion of historian as interpreter rather than chronicler was defined by Herodotus and Thucydides, who differed quite considerably as to method. (Thucydides famously rest
Jacob van Berkel
As a defense against the influence of postmodern epistemologies on historical theory & practice, I think this book has become two things: (1) a historian talking shop in some detail (2) a more general, mostly critical account of postmodernism.

As (1) it is somewhat useful, especially as an update or correction to E.H. Carr, but often unnecessarily tedious. The many intra-professional quibbles it enters into are sometimes amusing for their snide, but for a general reader like m'self not always in
Steve Greenleaf
Mar 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hx
It’s not often that I read a book that’s written by a character in a movie, but I did so when I read Sir Richard Evans’s In Defense of History (1998). Sir Richard, Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, is no swashbuckling character. He was portrayed the movie "Denial" about the libel trial of Irving v. Lipstadt in which he served as an expert witness for Lipstadt as she proved the truth of the Holocaust against the falsehood of Irving’s denialism. Evans is an expert on mode ...more
Michael Loveless
Richard Evans book, In Defense of History is not for everyone. The book gives an overview of some of the major movements in the study of history over the past 200 years, but its primary objective is to defend history from postmodernists. The most extreme postmodernists argue that the past can be described in so many different ways and from so many different points of view that it's impossible to determine what really happened. In fact they argue that the sources historians use are distorted by t ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
"For my own part, I remain optimistic that objective historical knowledge is both desirable and attainable. So when Patrick Joyce tells us that social history is dead, and Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth declares that time is a fictional construct, and Roland Barthes announces that all the world's a text, and Hans Kellner wants historians to stop behaving as if we were researching into things that actually happened, and Diane Purkiss says that we should just tell stories without bothering whether or not ...more
May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
WOW! So from a history point of view, this is my first historian book, and this was a compelling read! My history teacher bought this for me to help understand how to approach history as a subject. In this book the author Richard J. Evans, looks at the very different forms of approaching history, and to discuss post-modernism! This book does not analyse a specific event in history, it analyses Historians and the various different forms of approaching history in the profession of an Historian! Th ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
The author comes across as self important, obnoxious and pretentious.
May 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I'm a shameless fanboy, but I will read anything by Evans.

Any historiography will be a bit of a slow burn, but Evans critiques and appraises various historians, methods, philosophies, and theories with a balanced approach. Despite the changes and challenges to historical approaches, Evans does not despair of finding truth in history but rather defends the process (as noted in the title). One of his conclusions that “anyone who thinks that the truth about the past does not matter has not, p
Robert Maisey
Jun 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable romp through different contemporary approaches to history writing, pitching itself as follow-up/reappraisal of E.H. Carr's What Is History? and Geoffrey Elton's The Practice of History, both standard introductions to the subject since the 1960s.

Evans' picks up with an analysis of Carr's progressive view of history writing and Elton's conservative view and introduces his reader to how the discipline has progressed since then. Although In Defence of History covers all sorts of approache
Adam Balshan
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: historiography
3.5 stars [Education]
(W: 3.13, U: 3.25, T: 3.4)
Exact rating: 3.26
#12 in genre, out of 23

An explanation of historiography (how historians practice their craft), and a defense of the subject against those who have declared it meaningless (basically, Derridans).

Evans is remarkably fair to all, explaining everyone's positions at great length and quotation, and even defending Marxist readings of history, "moderate" postmodernism, and the identitarian subspecializations. He views all historical persp
Jul 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this was a really interesting introduction into historiography and will definitely be useful to talk about in my personal statement but omg it was so boring and took so long
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Richard J. Evans’ Defense of History looks at some if not all of the big questions on the nature of history. Can there be said to be a real history, or merely interpretations? Can historical evidence be trusted? How much, and how so? How is the historical record integrated into a coherent and accurate account? Throughout he addresses the positions of historians and the schools of history that have attempted to answer these questions with finality.

As with most sane attempts to define what history
Benjamin Eskola
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Benjamin by: Dr Stephen Pigney
This book is more-or-less two things: an account of how history is done in practice, more or less; and a critique of postmodernist theories of history. As far as the first goes, it doesn’t really seem to contain much that an average history graduate would be surprised by, although it might be helpful to those beginning or intending to begin a history degree (it was recommended me in my first year and I only just got around to reading it several years after graduation).

The second aspect is by far
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evans sets out to 'defend history' through responding to the challenges of postmodernism and generally finding a middle ground between the extremities within historical theory. I agree with the large majority of Evans' assessments, as he evaluates various cited works fairly, since he systematically considers the good and bad side of each view, and sets out a consistent argument from the off. Evans' argument of middle-grounded liberalism and acceptance also uses historical literary evidence to st ...more
There are elements to this book that I really liked, and which I found potentially useful for teaching, particularly chapter three, "Historians and their Facts"; chapter five on theories of causality, and the concluding essay on objectivity and its limits. Critics of the book describing the author as an unreconstructed Rankean are missing what makes this a good general book on historical methods.
However, it doesn't work as a teaching text because it's now dated. It would be great to see a new e
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a lot of fun to read, as Evans is quite wry and funny and has a pleasant flow to his writing. I zipped through it pretty fast. Particularly good for history serves as a nice introduction to what historians are not capable of doing (telling the pure, unadulterated truth about the past) and what they ARE capable of doing (constructing a defensible argument about events in the past).
It's funny, this really shouldn't be out of date, since it is only a little over a decade old
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I really enjoyed this book and got a lot out of it and will definitely reread. I am new to reading history, having been bored by it in school many many years ago, as a litany of remembered dates. Mr Evans explains what history is, how history can/should be studied and how different genres and factions are trying to be "the right version" of history. I had no idea of the historiography idea or the different ways history can be taught but this book has opened my eyes. As I read history books now, ...more
Andrew Carr
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant, balanced and open-minded discussion of what historians are trying to do and how they are trying to do it. At heart, this book is a response to Postmodernism's criticism of history as a discipline and intellectual endeavour. Evans is quite supportive of the useful correctives and insights postmodernism provides, while pushing firmly back on the more absurdist, reductionist claims. He charts a useful middle ground for the working historian that is neither unthinking-elitist-empiricism ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm teaching this book in a graduate seminar on research methods, so I may have to update this review based on student response. I respect Evans as a historian, and chose to teach this book after having side-lined it a few years ago because of his important work in the Lipstadt/Irving trial. In fact, I wish that Evans would update the book to reflect his experiences as an expert witness in that trial. As it is, the book relates concerns among historians about postmodern philosophy in a way that ...more
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He was born in London, of Welsh parentage, and is now Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Gonville & Caius College. Evans has also taught at the University of Stirling, University of East Anglia and Birkbeck College, London. Having been a Visiting Professor in History at Gresham College during 2008/09, he is now the Gresham Professor of Rhetoric.

He was

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“The first prerequisite of the serious historical researcher must be the ability to jettison dearly held interpretations in the face of the recalcitrance of the evidence.” 0 likes
“History,” declared Droysen, “is the only science enjoying the ambiguous fortune of being required to be at the same time an art.” 0 likes
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