Prologue: What is History? — Now



‘What is History?’, asked E.H. Carr in 1961. In the course of his Trevelyan lectures, delivered in Cambridge, broadcast on BBC radio, and printed in a book that has since sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide, Carr sought to answer this question in a number of ways. He began by making a distinction between history and chronicle. History was an attempt to understand and interpret the past, to explain the causes and origins of things in intelligible terms. Chronicle, on the other hand, was the mere cataloguing of events without any attempt to make connections between them. The chronicler was content to show that one thing followed another; the historian had to demonstrate that one thing caused another. Of course, Carr conceded, establishing that something happened was an important part of the historian’s work. It was the foundation on which everything else rested. But the really important part of the historian’s work lay in the edifice of explanation and interpretation which was erected on this foundation.1


Social History Historical Writing Historical Profession Henry VIII Advanced Industrial Society 
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Notes and references

  1. 1.
    E.H. Carr, What is History? (40th anniversary edition, with a new Introduction by Richard J. Evans) (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 5–6, 22–4Google Scholar
  2. also E.H. Carr, ‘History and Morals’, Times Literary Supplement, 17 December 1954, distinguishing between history and chronicle.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia, Vol. I: The Bolshevik Revolution, I (London: Macmillan, 1950), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Jonathan Haslam, The Vices of Integrity: E.H. Carr 1892–1982 (London: Verso, 1999)Google Scholar
  5. E.H. Carr, ‘An Autobiography’ (1989), in Michael Cox (ed.), E.H. Carr: A Critical Appraisal (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2000), pp. xiii–xxii.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Haslam, The Vices of Integrity, p. 146; Isaiah Berlin, ‘Mr Carr’s Big Battalions’, New Statesman, 5 January 1962, pp. 15–16Google Scholar
  7. H.R. Trevor-Roper, ‘E.H. Carr’s Success Story’, Encounter, May 1962, pp. 69–77.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Particularly influential here were E.J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1958)Google Scholar
  9. and E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Victor Gollancz, 1963).Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    See the account of the ‘discussion’ in Cambridge University Reporter 96 (1965–66), pp. 627, 1013–29, 1292, 1591, 1830, 1852–3, and more generally in Patrick Collinson, ‘Geoffrey Rudolph Elton, 1921–1994’, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. 94 (1996), pp. 429–55, here pp. 448–9.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Keith Thomas, ‘The Tools and the Job’, Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 1966, Special Issue: ‘New Ways in History’;Google Scholar
  12. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The Territory of the Historian (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press 1979), p. 6Google Scholar
  13. R.W. Fogel and G.R. Elton, Which Road to the Past? Two Views of History (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Joyce Appleby, Margaret Jacob and Lynn Hunt, Telling the Truth about History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), pp. 202, 216Google Scholar
  15. Peter N. Stearns, ‘Coming of Age’, Journal of Social History, Vol. 10 (1976), pp. 246–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. For a useful overview, see Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century (Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Harvey J. Kaye, The Powers of the Past: Reflections on the Crisis and the Promise of History (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991)Google Scholar
  18. and the introductory survey in Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr, Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  19. 17.
    For a discussion of these trends, see Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (2nd edn, with a new Afterword) (London: Granta, 2001).Google Scholar
  20. Among many examples, see in particular Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (London: Routledge, 1996) andGoogle Scholar
  21. Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History (London: Routledge, 1991)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. more briefly, Frank Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Post-modernism’, History and Theory, Vol. 28 (1989), pp. 137–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 18.
    Christopher Norris, Deconstruction and the Interests of Theory (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), p. 16Google Scholar
  24. Paul Boghossian, ‘What the Sokal Hoax Ought to Teach Us’, Times Literary Supplement, 13 December 1996, pp. 14–15Google Scholar
  25. Alan B. Spitzer, Historical Truth and Lies about the Past (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  26. 19.
    For references, see Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (London: Granta, 1997), pp. 284–301.Google Scholar
  27. 20.
    See, for an extreme example, Sande Cohen, Historical Culture: On the Recoding of an Academic Discipline (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  28. 21.
    For a critical account of this change, in the context of British labour history, see David Mayfield and Susan Thorne, ‘Social History and its Discontents: Gareth Stedman Jones and the Politics of Language’, Social History, Vol. 17 (1992), pp. 165–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 22.
    Stuart Clark, Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997)Google Scholar
  30. Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  31. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou (London: Scolar Press, 1978)Google Scholar
  32. Jean Delumeau, La peur en Occident (XIVe–XVIIIe siècles), une cité assiégée (Paris: Fayard, 1978); La péché et la peur: la culpabilisation en Occident (XIIIe–XVIIIe siècles) (Paris: Fayard, 1983).Google Scholar
  33. 24.
    Among many attempts to recount and explain this phenomenon, two of the most illuminating are Peter Novick, The Holocaust and Collective Memory (London: Bloomsbury, 1999)Google Scholar
  34. and Tony Judt, ‘The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe’, in Istvan Déak, Jan T. Gross and Tony Judt (eds), The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and its Aftermath (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 293–324.Google Scholar
  35. 25.
    Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (London: Penguin, 1954) and many succeeding novelsGoogle Scholar
  36. Iris Murdoch, Under the Net (London: Chatto and Windus, 1994) and many moreGoogle Scholar
  37. Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (London: Picador, 1992)Google Scholar
  38. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2000); Matthew Kneale, English Passengers (London: Penguin, 2000)Google Scholar
  39. Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong (London: Vintage, 1993).Google Scholar
  40. 26.
    John Willis, ‘Past is Perfect’, Guardian, 29 October 2001, Media Supplement, pp. 2–3 (the author is a television executive).Google Scholar
  41. 27.
    Mark C. Carnes (ed.), Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1996)Google Scholar
  42. Richard J. Evans, ‘Is This the Past as we Know it?’, Independent, 12 March 2001, Monday review, p. 5.Google Scholar
  43. 28.
    Tristram Hunt, ‘Back to the Future’, Observer, 6 January 2002.Google Scholar
  44. 29.
    Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998); Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis (London: Allen Lane, 2000).Google Scholar
  45. 30.
    Richard J. Evans, ‘How History has become Popular Again’, New Statesman, 12 February 2001, pp. 25–7.Google Scholar
  46. 32.
    Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998).Google Scholar
  47. 33.
    Kathleen Burk, Troublemaker: The Life and History of A.J.P. Taylor (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  48. 34.
    Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987)Google Scholar
  49. Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1989).Google Scholar
  50. 37.
    Ved Mehta, Fly and the Fly-Bottle: Encounters with British Intellectuals (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1963), p. 158 (interview with Carr).Google Scholar
  51. 39.
    For an extended discussion of such manipulation and distortion, see Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust and the David Irving Trial (New York: Basic Books, 2001).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2002

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