WHAT IS HISTORY?
E. H. Carr
Edward Hallett Carr was born in 1892 and educated at the Merchant Taylors' School, London, end Trinity College, Cambridge. He joined the Foreign Office in 1916, and, after numerous jobs in and connected with the F.O. at home and abroad, he resigned in 1936, and became Wilson Professor of International Politics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He was Assistant Editor of The Times from 1941 a, 1946, Tutor In Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1953 to 1955, and became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1955. Among his many publications are: The Romantic Exiles, The Twenty Year’s Crisis 1919-1939, Conditions of Peace, The Soviet Impact on the Western World, The New Society (1951). The first six volumes of his large-scale History of Soviet Russia has been published in Pelicans, including the Bolshevik Revolution, The Interregnum, and two volumes of Socialism in One Country. Professor Carr's most recent book, a collection of essays, is 1917: Before and After (1968).
I. The Historian and His Facts
I OFTEN THINK IT ODD THAT IT SHOULD BE SO DULL, FOR A GREAT DEAL OF IT MUST BE INVENTION.
-Catherine Morland on History
WHAT is history ? Lest anyone think the question meaningless or superfluous, I will take as my text two passages relating respectively to the first and second incarnations of the Cambridge Modern History. Here is Acton in his report of October 1896 to the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press on the work which he had undertaken to edit: It is a unique opportunity of recording, in the way most useful to the greatest number, the fullness of the knowledge which the nineteenth century is about to bequeath.... By the judicious division of labour we should be able to do it, and to bring home to every man the last document, and the ripest conclusions of international research. Ultimate history we cannot have in this generation; but we can dispose of conventional file:///C|/Documents and Settings/Vidula/Local Settings/Temp/Rar$EX00.750/carr.htm (1 of 97)7/20/2006 11:28:45 AM
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history, and show the point we have reached on the road from one to the other, now that all information is within reach, and every problem has become capable of solution.' And almost exactly sixty years later Professor Sir George Clark, in his general introduction to the second Cambridge Modern History, commented on this belief of Acton and his collaborators that it would one day be possible to produce 'ultimate history', and went on: Historians of a later generation do not look forward to any such prospect. They expect their work to be superseded again and again. They consider that knowledge of the past has come down through one or more human minds, has been 'processed' by them, and therefore cannot consist of elemental and impersonal atoms which nothing can alter....The exploration seems to be endless, and some impatient scholars take refuge in scepticism, or at least in the doctrine that, since all historical judgements involve persons and points of view, one is as good as another and there is no 'objective' historical truth. Where the pundits contradict each other so flagrantly, the held is open to inquiry. I hope that J am sufficiently up-to-date to recognize that anything written in the 1890s must be nonsense. But I am not yet advanced enough to be committed to the view that anything written in the 1950s necessarily makes sense. Indeed, it may already have occurred to you that this inquiry is liable to stray into something even broader than the nature of history. The clash between Acton and Sir George Clark is a reflection of the change in our total outlook on society over the interval between these two pronouncements. Acton speaks out of the positive belief, the clear-eyed self-confidence, of the later Victorian age; Sir George Clark echoes the bewilderment sad distracted scepticism of the beat generation. When we attempt to answer...