It’s been awhile, but I used to follow various developments in the study of history – historiography, the philosophy of history and kind of gave up in the mid-1990s when it looked like the post-modernists had the upper hand and were getting into feuds and overly philosophical. It didn’t seem like it was about history anymore.
Times have changed. Holocaust denial is no longer a valid historical position (if it ever was). I was far more familiar with E.H. Carr from old college days – pre revisionism and before post-modern deconstruction got very much involved but even Carr changed a bit.
In Defense of of History
by Richard J. Evans
1997 / 287 pages
read by Julian Elfer – 7h 52m
rating: 9.25 / historiography – theory
(read and listened)
Evans’ book puts the post-modern wars back on the table and brings it up to date (to 1997 anyway) while standing right behind Carr, although not with complete agreement, in taking the classic approach to the study of history. The main question I suppose is “Do historians report or create history?” My personal answer is that they do both.
There’s a lot of material to organize and present but Evans knows his stuff and was very highly regarded in the field even prior to this book with specialized academic work in German 20th century history.
The book includes a background to the subject – what is he standing “in Defense of History” from? (Post-modernist attacks) Then he goes into some challenges he raises – like in Chapter 1 dealing with science in relation to evidence.
Other issues Evans confronts are historical facts – what are they, who decides based on what. The validity and verifiability of language and sources is examined along with causation. What is knowledge – what is power, what is objectivity and how far can we take that? There are all thoroughly examined, and I think with the aim of teaching some non-historians what the study of history is about. YAY!
Of course it’s possible that Evans does not know much about the ideas of post-modernism. as has been charged, but I agree with him on the reality of history because, for very simple instance, I have a recipe handed down from my grandmother written when she was newly married in 1918. If I give that paper (which can be tested for age and her handwriting analyzed against her diary pages) to my granddaughter, age 19, my granddaughter in 2019 would likely be able to make the same kind of angel food cake my grandmother did a hundred years prior. She won’t make a strawberry pie from it. No, it won’t be the same exact cate in every respect but I wonder if my mother, eating both, would be able to tell the difference. Language and science work across time.
And my bottom line thought on a lot of it is that ieas in historical revisionism come and go without permanent major upheavals, but they do leave various impressions on the traditional methods of research, writing and reading of history. These ideas are probably as necessary in the study of history as they are in other subjects of study from biology to teaching to whatever.
Of course there was much criticism of this book when it was first released in 1997, but it is still published and sells quite well.