Cover image for In defense of history
In defense of history
Evans, Richard J.
Personal Author:
[American edition].
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
287 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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D16.8 .E847 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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E. H. Carr's What Is History?, a classic introduction to the field that has held sway for a generation, may now give way to a worthy successor. In his compact, spirited survey, Richard Evans shows us how historians manage to extract meaning from the recalcitrant past. To materials that are frustratingly meager, or overwhelmingly profuse, they bring an array of tools that range from agreed-upon rules of documentation and powerful computer models to the skilled investigator's sudden insight, all employed with the aim of reconstructing a verifiable, usable past. Grounded in practice, Evans's defense of history as a distinctive type of knowledge will stand as "essential reading for coming generations" (Keith Thomas in New Statesman and Society).

Author Notes

Richard J. Evans is professor of modern history at Cambridge University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Evans (history, Cambridge Univ.) defends traditional history against the onslaught of postmodernist theories, which hold that ultimate historical truth is not only unattainable but does not exist. In the process, he provides the reader with an insightful critique of the evolution of historical methodology, and by implication the historical profession, in the generation since Edward Hallett Carr's classic What Is History? (LJ 2/15/62) appeared. Evans's analysis of the link between postmodernist theory and Holocaust denial is particularly insightful. The idea that no historical "theory" is more valid than another, combined with the American notion that both sides of any issue must receive "fair" play, brings Holocaust denial dangerously close to legitimacy. Evans manages to address a number of issues without being polemical. The book is particularly useful for beginning graduate students. Recommended for all libraries.‘Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Its title places this book in the literature on the postmodernist challenge to the discipline of history. Put in most general terms, Evans's challenge is to dislodge history from its independent position between literature (ideal: free imagination) and philosophy (ideal: stable truth). Prompted by disenchantment with progress, determined to see the world in linguistic terms, and opposed to claims to authority for any concept of truth, postmodernists would place history into or close to the area of literature. Evans, a well-known British historian of Germany, defends history's autonomy by demonstrating the validity of the historical views on truth, meaning, causation, and objectivity as well as those on science, morality, and the history of historiography. He relates the postmodernist positions fairly, although he is critical of many of them. Rather than presenting lengthy expositions of various postmodernist theories, he chooses to illustrate the postmodernist controversy in the context of historical problems and controversies. In doing so, Evans points out the proper limits to postmodernist influences on historiography and rejects postmodernist claims that our period is experiencing a decisive break in historical understanding. An expertly and lucidly written account of an often bitter controversy. Upper-division undergraduates and above. E. A. Breisach Western Michigan University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Preface to the American Editionp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1. The History of Historyp. 13
2. History, Science, and Moralityp. 39
3. Historians and Their Factsp. 65
4. Sources and Discoursesp. 89
5. Causation in Historyp. 111
6. Society and the Individualp. 139
7. Knowledge and Powerp. 165
8. Objectivity and Its Limitsp. 193
Notesp. 221
Further Readingp. 253
Indexp. 273