Building Block – What is History?

Until posed that first time, I hadn’t really given the question any thought.  History is something that is always present; as a big nebulous cloud of people, events, and places of the past.  Something I read about.  But, of course, someone has to write the books to be read; therefore History isn’t History until someone writes about it.  E. H. Carr, Historian and a prominent figure on this debate during the 1960’s, takes this idea a step further and posits that the so called Historical “fact” does not exist until an Historian takes note of it.  Carr also doubts that historical objectivity exists (held dear by ‘Old Historians’) as we are all influenced by our own biases and agendas – consciously or not.  But he did not endorse an ‘anything goes’ attitude that has led to denial Histories, he insisted “accuracy is not a virtue of Historians – it is a duty”.[i]

Like all good historiographical arguments, Carr has his detractors and was accused of not “walking the talk” by Richard Evans, who poses that Carr conveniently left out “facts” that didn’t suit his history of the Russian Bolsheviks.[ii]  This may well be true, but to me it reinforces Carr’s view that Historians are yet another layer of filtering on stories told.

I would add the second question of “Why I chose History” to this building block category.  Although not discussed until much later in the semester, this also is a foundation understanding key to being a professional Historian.  Gaining this insight has determined the way in which will I frame and present the Vauxhall Gardens and I suspect every History that I write in the future.  I chose History because I like the stories about people in a different time and place.

[i] E H CArr Carr, E. H. What is History. (1964), Penguin. P. 10

[ii]Evans, R. J. In Defence of History. (1997)  London.

Author: Soosie

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