Rather, we play an active, interpretive role in producing facts. If the theological Day of Judgement is the point at which God steps in to deliver his verdict on mankind, Carr’s secularised version is daily generated and delivered by us. He died in an old people’s home, the matron of which he would ask, piteously, to hold his hand. On the left, Sidney and Beatrice Webb proudly announced the ‘the moral bankruptcy of capitalism’ in 1922, while the historian GDH Cole declared in The Present Confusion, published in 1933, that the intellectual case against capitalism had become ‘overwhelmingly strong’. Indeed, it is not that the world is really in decline, let alone ending. He was the sort of man that always had holes in his sleeves, ate milk pudding every night and loathed fuss. My childhood memories of history and the learning of history were enhanced by the omnipresent familial legacy of my great-grandfather, EH Carr, nicknamed “the Prof”. And it’s dialectical in the sense that he grasps subjectivity and objectivity, freedom and necessity, and so on, as dynamic unities, in which each side makes a claim on the other. This is the secular truth behind the religious myth that the meaning of history will be revealed in the Day of Judgement.’. But it is precisely at this point that Carr has never seemed so anachronistic. ‘Remembrance of these things 60 or 70 years later’, he wrote in 1979, ‘must, I feel, sharpen one’s consciousness of the deep cleft which divides that remote age from the present, and of the historical process that brought it about. If Lenin dreams of self-determination or freedom at all, it is only when sleeping. Indeed, isn’t he saying, more precisely, that the meaning of the past is always relative to the political demands of certain present-day classes and individuals? can be read, then, as a call to historical consciousness, a demand that we reckon with change, not as something that befalls us, like an accident or a terrible fate or, worse still, a quasi-apocalyptic ending or an inexorable decline, but as opportunity – an opportunity to progress, an opportunity to develop ‘human potentialities’, as Carr himself described it. Or better still, the historical vantage point provided by his or her present. You can find out more here. (Carr 1961: 29). comment. This rift in Carr’s development cannot be understated. Reprinted in Penguin Books 1990 . e reasons why History shou d not !e ca ed a science+ 1/ History deals e&clusively with the uni(ue, science with the general+ Carr disa*rees, sayin* that the historian constantly uses generalisation to test his e#idence. The result, at its highest points, is an unusually developed historical consciousness, a consciousness of the perpetual this-worldly transcending of what is, a consciousness of the necessity and, above all, the promise of historical change. But not immediately. He attempts to answer this question, by explaining how historians come by their fact, how they see it as individuals, he compares it to science, the causes, as a process, and as a growing field. From this point onwards, he is forever trying to come to terms with and understand a world that is no longer immediately his – no longer his parents’, no longer that of his class. (1961) First get your facts straight, then plunge at your peril into the shifting sands of interpretation - that is the ultimate wisdom of the empirical, common-sense school of history. Published in Pelican Books 1964. Carr begins his essay by criticizing the common misconception, often held by Positivists, that history is simply about the gathering of facts. The poet Siegfried Sassoon echoed Woolf’s sense of rupture and loss: ‘What a peaceful world it was! 1–24. Rather, the truth of reality lies in the generative process by which things come to exist and appear as things – a process in which humans, as active, increasingly self-conscious subjects, play an ever greater determining role; and, likewise, the truth of history, lies in the generative process by which meaning, significance and facts are constantly being established – a process in which humans, as increasingly historical subjects, play an ever more conscious role. It’s dialectical in the sense that truth does not lie in one particular part, or in the subject or the object, but in the whole that mediates the existence of the parts. Thus, both the realist philosopher of history Michael Stanford and reconstructionist historian Arthur Marwick emphasised Carr's judgement that the answer … Isn’t Carr saying that the meaning of the past is always relative to the demands of the present? What is history (second edition) Item Preview remove-circle Share or Embed This Item. Then, the oil crisis, the Vietnam War and environmental degradation were all expressions of this sense of an ending. He appears to be saying that facts are created, at some level, by us (albeit through ‘the constant interaction of subject and object’). 3 people found this helpful. Helpful. Even at the time of the publication of What is History?, and especially during the 1970s, when Carr wrote a new introduction for it, his optimism clashed with the sense of collapse and catastrophe that dominated the Western mindset. He graduated with a degree in classics in 1916. Carr was far from unique in thinking that ‘a civilisation [had] perished’. Still it is possible to see why Carr has been accused of half-baked postmodernism, and why, today, he would no doubt be labelled a post-truther. At its best, then, Carr’s work stands as a riposte to cultural pessimism, a retort to all species of declinism and misanthropy – it is a hymn to optimism. As Carr put it in a 1953 essay on Karl Mannheim, ‘Reality consists in the constant interaction of subject and object, of man and his material environment’. The resulting work was his 14-volume History of … E.H. Carr's What Is History? spiked opinion, every Friday, Long-reads from leading thinkers,
If Bakunin and Dostoyevsky give him an intellectual shove, it’s the Great Depression of 1929 that delivers the decisive push. Carr’s response to the doomsayers of the 1970s is worth recalling: ‘My conclusion is that the current wave of scepticism and despair, which looks ahead to nothing but destruction and decay, and dismisses as absurd any belief in progress or any prospect of a further advance by the human race, is a form of elitism – the product of elite social groups whose security and whose privileges have been most conspicuously eroded by the crisis, and of elite countries whose once undisputed domination over the rest of the world has been shattered.’. Another point make is that the facts aren’t even in a pure form. E. H. Carr's What Is History? I bought a 50¢ copy of this book years ago on a bargain bin spree at either Housing Works or the Strand. Even that is not quite right, because for Carr, the absolute is not in history, like a swimmer is in the water; the absolute is the rich, contradiction-ridden movement of history itself, its predominant direction, its trajectory, its (always provisional) teleology. has been answered in different ways over the years. Carr was born in North London to a family of liberal-progressive views and educated at Merchant Taylor’s School and Trinity College, Cambridge. achievement'. Facts do not speak for themselves; they speak for us. is the classic introduction to the theory of history. On the other hand, he is never totally independent of it and its unconditional master.’, Carr is arguing, then, more broadly, that subjectivity and objectivity constitute a dynamic, ever shifting unity, and, more specifically, that the historian is neither free to make things up, nor compelled simply to record what is. Not in the abstract. Subscribe to our weekly and daily newsletters. Even the publication of Jonathan Haslam’s largely sympathetic biography The Vices of Integrity in 1999 served only to reinforce the denigration of Carr rather than rectify it. He is arguing, as we have seen, that there is an absolute in history. For Carr this suggests the "...untenable theory of history as an objective compilation of facts...and an equally untenable theory of history as the subjective product of the mind of the historian..." is much less of a problem than any hard-nosed reconstructionists might fear. He also pointed out that a historian’s work cannot be written with out understanding the mind and time in which it came from. It is in fact the way in which human beings operate in everyday life, a "...reflection of the nature of man" as Carr suggests. This was his optimism of the will. In other words, subjective elements (as mentioned above) undermine the objective interpretations, techniques of plot, character, and atmosphere "and carry them to a peak of perfection that has never been surpassed" (1976, 55). As he writes of Marx, ‘to study the part without reference to the whole, the fact without reference to its significance, the event without reference to cause or consequence, the particular crisis without reference to the general situation, would have seemed to Marx a barren exercise’. The Carr that emerged in Haslam’s telling was intellectually pristine, but heedlessly cruel – it appeared as if he dedicated himself to the life of the mind at the expense of the life he should have lived with others. Not that it began life as a book. Which Carr’s purpose is to expose the correct …show more content… Rather the ends in the light of which we make sense of the past are constantly being revised and fought over by us in the constantly developing present. In the past, ive read Arthur Marwicks Nature of History and a few books of John Tosh (all that seem to be a little critical of Carr). Second edition 1987. He argues that it is the necessary interpretations which mean personal biases whether intentional or not, define what we see as history. They have been reflected in the mind of another person before they have come to you. Mommsen’s longing for a strong leader in the present drives his search for his existence in the past. The significance of his work has become as doubtful and uncertain as the significance of the revolution that inspired it. He was the brilliant historian who, thanks to his 14-volume history of Russia after 1917, was feted, in the words of his friend Isaac Deutscher, as ‘the first genuine historian of the Soviet regime’; he was the man who had birthed the discipline of international relations, with his real-politik championing of appeasement in The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919‑1939, published, with grim irony, as Hitler’s Germany rolled into Poland; and he was the author, most famously perhaps, of What is history? When he died in 1982, aged 90, he was still viewed as a formidable, authoritative public intellectual from an era in which the divide between public and academic had yet to become an iron curtain. He is that ‘shocking old Soviet apologist’, as one reviewer called him; the most overrated thinker of the century, as a former student labeled him in 1999; a man of ‘unlimited nastiness’, who, in the name of progress, sided with tyranny and justified mass slaughter. ‘A loss of the pervading sense of a world in perpetual motion.’, What is History? That is what Carr did: he confronted the reality and tumult of a world in permanent transition, and rather than simply condemn the forces that were casting asunder the certainties and pieties of his generation and of his class, he sought instead to understand them, to support them even, to grasp the progress where many of his peers saw only regress and imminent collapse. Among the literature read and discussed by the Dostoevsky fireside were the Bible, writings of Nikolai Karamzin, including History of the Russian State, Letters of a Russian Traveller, and Poor Liza; the poets Vasily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Y. Lermontov, Gavriil R. Derzhavin, and, of course, Alexander Pushkin; and the novelist Sir Walter Scott. What is History?, a question that, after all, could only be asked when the certainties that had long guided the discipline had disappeared, was also a profound reflection on the state of historical consciousness, of our present relationship to the past and future, of our relationship to change. If you enjoy what we do, and you have a bit of money to spare, please do consider donating to spiked – or even better, becoming a regular donor. Stone then kindly laid bare the conjugal catastrophe of Carr’s domestic life: ‘there were three Mrs Carrs (not one, as The Times obituary claimed), and each marriage ended in hideous circumstances: one wife was left when she already had terminal cancer, another abandoned, when Carr was almost 90, because she was “depressing”. Academia.edu is a platform for academics to share research papers. ), But the charge of relativism would still seem to stand, wouldn’t it? No, it is the worldview of the today’s elites that is in peril, not the world itself. Or, as Carr puts it in a 1972 essay on Georg Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness (1922): ‘Becoming, as Hegel puts it, is the truth of Being, so that the process constitutes a deeper level of reality than the empirical fact.’ In other words, the truth of reality – and that includes historical reality – is not a thing, or a set of facts, that exist apart from us, like the philosopher’s proverbial table. Or at least they have done for a section of Western society. is a 1961 non-fiction book by historian Edward Hallett Carr on historiography. Likewise, the constantly transforming interpretation of the past provides a means to understand the present, of how we came to exist as we do, or failed to come to exist as we ought to have done. A sense of an ending hung heavily, suffocatingly, in the postwar air. The final lines of What is History? His rejection of empiricism is persuasive and constructive to the understanding of historical views. It was actually born as a series of GM Trevelyan lectures, delivered to a packed hall in the University of Cambridge between January and March 1961. Thank you! ‘The facts are available to the historian in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fish on the fishmonger’s slab’, he writes. Well, yes, to an extent that is what he’s saying, although in arguing this, Carr never doubts the facticity of reality – he merely argues that the stuff of history is constantly in the process of being illuminated by the changing light cast by the development and trajectory of the present. When he is mentioned, it is with bile in the throat. be detached from, the subjectivities of scholars' . It is actually during a posting to Riga in Latvia in the early 1920s, when finding himself bored, disillusioned and gradually immersing himself in Russian literature, that his world starts to tilt. Chapter 1 The Historian and His Facts In the first chapter, Carr examines whether a neutral, objective account of history is possible. … Oops! But what that means, whether it was a ‘glorious revolution’, or something less than glorious, as Tom Paine was to contend nearly 100 years later, is constantly subject to interpretation. WHAT IS HISTORY WHAT IS HISTORY? What Is History? Millions have crossed the Rubicon, but the historians tell us that only Caesar's crossing was significant. Although the objectivity of some historical truths is indisputable, one must realise that most truths in history are influenced by the historian's biases, limitations and his subjection to external influences. All historical facts come to us as a result of interpretative choices by historians influenced by the standards of their age. He was subsequently tutor and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. By the end of chapter one he answers the question “What is history? This is the moment at which Carr’s reckoning with the historical forces that have cast the long 19th-century asunder turns into something else: a recognition that the absolute, which, after all, is nothing more than the developing self-consciousness and striving of an ever widening portion of humanity, is still moving towards something else. History has not been kind to EH Carr. As one of his myriad detractors put it, ‘Carr today has a special claim to attention: he was consistently and egregiously wrong’. This is where Carr’s biography is important. 14 Carr, What Is History?, pp. 16 See Holsti, Kal, The Dividing Discipline (Boston, 1985), especially chapter 7. Yet this judgement is not only hasty; it also hides what makes Carr’s work of continuing value. So for 1960s civil-rights activists, the aspiration for political and legal equality, provided them with a sense of the inequalities and injustices of the past; and for Carr’s more avowedly Marxist contemporaries, such as Christopher Hill or EP Thompson, the disillusionment with Stalinism and the aspiration for a native English democratic socialist tradition generated their splendid social histories of the English Civil War and the 19th-century working-class. Because to be found there is something of huge intellectual importance today: an unceasing reckoning with historical change, indeed, a reckoning with the nature of historical change. It is at this point, writing challenging leaders from his pulpit at The Times and challenging academics from his rostrum at Aberystwyth, that his reckoning with history begins in earnest. He was 22 when war broke out. Chapter A History, 5cience and >ora ity Carr pro#ides and contends with fi#e p ausi! All quotes, unless otherwise stated, from What is History, by EH Carr, Penguin, 1990, (Buy this book from Amazon(UK). No, progress works itself out in the concrete ends towards which people struggle, and in light of which, interpret the past, and determine the present. ‘In those [pre-1914] days there was an ordered way of life, a law, a temple and a city – a civilisation of sorts’, reflected the Bloomsbury Group patriarch, Leonard Woolf, in 1939. But Carr is not dismissing facts. Frank believes that "the readings in, What is History? His present concerns generated his interpretation of the past and vice versa. We should continue to engage in such a dialogue with the past, revisiting and revising accepted historical facts by accepting there is no such a thing as absolute truth; and ultimately, achieve greater relative objectivity, aiding us to understand the past better for the purpose of the present. And what a bullying, barbarian world it is now!’. Book review of Edward Hallett Carr Essay, History is something we live with everyday. He had almost come of age, and yet the world in which he was to be initiated, the world in which he thought he would make his way, was at that very moment coming to an end. That is to say, as Carr argues, the meaning of the past is always being mediated by the concerns, hopes and desires of the present. Even before man embark on writing it down. It persists in and through those today who are in the process of sensing their own ‘unverifiable utopias’, be they new forms of democracy or an enlarged sphere of freedom – those, that is, who have the future in their bones. … For Carr very greatly wanted to be loved, and he much preferred women’s company to men’s, although he treated his women so badly.’. It happens every second in every part of the world. Hence, is Morris implying that historical truths are objective? It is huge, detailed and architecturally intimidating, tracing the development of the Soviet state from its Bolshevik inception through to its bureaucratic Stalinist apotheosis. Historical truth exists, but as process. The means to realising communism – an expanded, centralised state, forcefully modernising the industrial structures of Soviet life – start to appear as ends in themselves, and Lenin becomes all practice and no theory. WHAT IS HISTORY? And that to understand the past we must also understand the future. This marks Carr’s thought profoundly. But if the Great War cracked the confidence of Britain’s ruling classes, the Russian Revolution delivered the shattering blow. There is a clear parallel with Thomas Kuhn's notion that most scientific research operates of necessity within the confines of a dominant paradigm. (Burckhardt himself is an example of this dialectic. Is a study of historiography that was written by english historian E .H .CARR. still provides a powerful retort to cultural pessimism. And the result? E.H. Carr, in full Edward Hallett Carr, (born June 28, 1892, London, England—died November 3, 1982, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire), British political scientist and historian specializing in modern Russian history. Nazi Party's Use of Artistic Propaganda Led To The Ascension and Dominance of German Culture, The Rivalry Between Boeing and Airbus Essay. Carr’s absolute is thoroughly humanised – hence Carr’s use of the pronoun ‘we’ in the following passage: ‘[The absolute] is something still incomplete and in process of becoming – something in the future towards which we move, which begins to take shape only as we move towards it, and in the light of which, as we move forward, we gradually shape our interpretation of the past. The book originated in a series of lectures given … E.H. Carr What is History? The key theme of progress (or changes, in a more neutral way) is undoubtedly the pillar of History. Indeed, he mocks the empiricist tradition of Locke and Hume which informs, as he sees it, the commonsense view of history, in which facts are assumed to exist independently of the observing or knowing subject. He was a 19th-century philosopher, a friend of Nietzsche and, as an historian, he sought out the individualistic genius of the Renaissance as a counterpoint to the levelling tendencies of incipient mass democracy. Carr recognised that history as a discipline does not follow the logic of discovery. Carr quotes Jacob Burckhardt here: ‘History is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another’. This was the break, the rupture, the moment when Carr was catapulted out of the world in which he, as he put it, felt ‘secure’. In the mid-1930s, Carr leaves the Foreign Office and takes up two roles: the Woodrow Wilson Chair of International Politics at the University of Aberystwyth; and an editorial role at The Times. 2021 is looking an awful lot like 2020 so far – lockdown authoritarianism, Big Tech censorship and woke hysteria continue to run amok. A story of history-making in action became a story of politicians in conversation, a painstaking chronicle of meetings and decisions, of planning and statecraft. And no return is possible.’ (1). But Carr’s history seems not so much to move as to proceed. History is and every changing chain of events and fact that have been spread over time. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription. For Carr, this was socialism. He joined the Foreign Office in 1916, and, after numerous jobs in and connected with the F.O. Looked for the best quality in peoples and nations (appeasement) "The Three Carrs" the 'Realist But that doesn’t diminish the accuracy or magnificence of Mommsen’s history; rather, it makes it. This has been a position much misunderstood by the profession. (5) E. H. Carr, What Is History? So Paine’s interpretation of the Glorious Revolution as a moment of aristocratic reaction is made possible by his present immersion in the radically democratic tumult of the American and French revolutions. His parents’ political creed of free-trade liberalism seemed to be justifying its ascendancy: material living standards were rising; suffrage was expanding; and the period of peace and prosperity that stretched from end of the end of Napoleonic Wars was lengthening. Carr was no fabulist, no magical historicist, conjuring up history to suit his whims. Something went wrong. (1961), a limpid, persuasive polemic that proved so popular among the general public that professional historians have rarely stopped dismissing it ever since. Towards the end of 1944 Carr decided to write a complete history of Soviet Russia from 1917 comprising all aspects of social, political and economic history to explain how the Soviet Union withstood the German invasion. It is the historian who has decided for his own reasons that Caesar's crossing of that petty stream, the Rubicon, is a fact of history, whereas the crossing of the Rubicon by millions of other people before or since interests nobody at all. So, argues Carr, The History of Rome, written by the German classicist Theodor Mommsen in the mid-1850s, presents an idealised version of Caesar, partly because of Mommsen’s frustration with the German people’s inability to fulfil its political aspirations after the failure of the 1848-49 revolutions. The mistake his critics make is to assume that it must therefore exist simultaneously outwith history, as something static and forever true, when, for Carr, it can only exist within history. ‘Everything changes’ is cliché, not insight. Another concluded, with a sigh of relief, that Carr was ‘a cold-blooded colossus, whose like we shall not see again – thank God’. How do they find the correct facts and put them in a book or compare them to the time they are studying. This sentiment ran like a black thread through the British culture of the 1920s and 1930s, prompting the declinist visions of historian Arnold Toynbee just as much as the apocalyptic yearnings of WB Yeats or the grinning fascist daydreams of Wyndham Lewis. He was always a singular, fiercely individualistic character but at this point in the early 20th century, he was at home in the world. Be the first one to write a review. A scholarship boy at Merchant Taylors’ School, he moved effortlessly on to study classics at Cambridge under AE Housman, before embarking on what ought to have been an entirely and conventionally successful career in the civil service, or more precisely, the Foreign Office. Carr himself was in no doubt as to the deep, almost latent significance of October 1917. Carr always possessed that sense of an ending, of a worldview losing its position as the ruling worldview, but he developed an idea of a necessary continuing, too, that other historical actors, with their own goals and worldviews, were on the rise. he even criticises the American historian Carl Becker who, in 1910, argued that ‘the facts of history do not exist for any historian till he creates them’. After a visit to the Soviet Union in 1925, John Maynard Keynes called for ‘the development of new methods and new ideas for effecting the transition from the economic anarchy of the individualistic capitalism which rules today in Western Europe’.