A Synopsis of EH Carr's "What is History?
The study of history
involves a process of moving from appearances to a more profound understanding
of the essence of interrelated events. The process of history can be charted
like a spiral, the line and ita loops each representing elements, understandings
of the past and a continuing body of new knowledge.
History is an analysis
of the past from a standpoint in a relative present, embedded with a call
to action for the future.
can either teach that people can comprehend, act on, and transform their
societies--or they cannot.
A historian's duty
is to respect the facts, to see to their accuracy, and to bring them into
a picture or interpretation proposed. It is not possible to assemble all
the facts. One must choose, a very human task. History, then. is the interplay
and hierarchical ordering of the objective through the lens of the subjective.
So history is a dialogue between a historian and facts, between the past
and today--and tomorrow.
Since history is
people studying both things and people, it is necessarily subjective, interpretive,
and in a world animated by inequality and authoritarianism, political.
The choice of facts is imbued with values.
are the products of history, and come with a standpoint. It is therefore
important to discover the historian's point of view, which influences her
choice and ordering of events, at least.
born into historical moments. The more they comprehend their moment, the
more they influence history.
Since people are
born into moments independent of~their will, and since each moment is likely
to be more complex than anyone's consciousness of it, it follows that many
actions have unintended consequences.
History is a study
of individuals and the process of interactions they have with one another
- - and the social forces which rise from their actions- -planned or not.
Great people can
act within the context of their moments, but they do not rise from the
mists or fall from the sky. They are products and catalysts of their times.
A historian's biases
can be understood by her use of hypotheses. One must observe, test, and
revise, recognizing always the possibility of further correction.
History seeks the
general within the unique. As such, history is useful as a guide, not a
predictor of specific events.
is intrinsic to history. Hope is found within the detailed study of specific
movements of change. History seeks out causes. Every position in history
involves a hierarchical grasp of many causes. In ordering causes, labor,
sexuality, and the construction of knowledge are key to every society.
All things are
interrelated, interpenetrating. Things exist. Things change. Nothing is
random. Nothing comes from nothing. There is no finite beginning or end
studying matter in motion, asks, "Why? What next?"
Gibson, Wayne State University