What is history 7: EH Carr Causation in history

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ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 1 May 2018

What is History? by EH Carr: The next three Lectures (Chapters 2 to 4)

Society & the individual; History, science & morality; Causation in history


I covered Lecture 1 or Chapter 1 (pp 7-30) in What is History, quite comprehensively in What is History 5: Historians and their facts. This was a very satisfying process because it was easy to tease erudite and incisive answers from Carr’s wonderful sentences and quotations from other historians.

The remaining lectures on initial reading tend to be slightly less incisive and a little more difficult in interpretation. However, there is still a large amount of fascinating material and the content Carr is grappling with, that is, defining a new way of looking at historical method (historiography) is too important to ignore.

The last two lectures in What is HistoryHistory as Progress and the Widening Horizon are also important and will be covered later. In the intervening years since 1961, History as Progress, although equivocal in interpretation, appears to have evolved or come full-circle such as to become quite modern in its outlook.

Cambridge University

The Faculty of History at Cambridge University (Carr’s university) has always been somewhat dubious of Carr. It currently provides faint praise by saying he is still read by students, helped by the fact that the book is short, but:

Much of its argument has long since passed out of current thinking and, on its own, it is perhaps an inadequate introduction to historiography, as Carr would doubtless have been the first to admit. However, it is a good place to start…

Historiography is the study of historians and of historical method.

I disagree with Cambridge History. I don’t think that good books ever die despite their inadequacies, and although people naturally think a book from 1961 must be out-of-date, the limited amount of more up-to-date historiography that I have read is less clear than Carr and so far less illuminating, at least to me. Carr himself would doubtless have something witty to say about this.

I do not want to diminish Carr’s later lectures in any way. They are highly entertaining and continue the trend of formidable examples and wonderful quotations and insights. The lecture on Causation in History is perhaps the second most important chapter in the book to date. The lectures are so rich I envy anyone (probably few alive) who actually attended them.

The next three lectures are as follows:

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