Alex von tunzelmann

Don’t ask a historian what history is

E.H. Carr’s 1961 book What is History? has cast a long shadow over the discipline. I recall being assigned to read it as a teen-ager, and it has prompted multiple reconsiderations over the years — as acknowledged by the editors in their introduction to this book. Reappraisals and conferences on ‘What is History?’ are launched with regularity. (One of the editors of this volume is Carr’s great-granddaughter.) Aside from the reappraisal of Carr’s original work, the fact that books like this continue to be produced in academic history says something about the slipperiness of defining it in the first place — and the discipline’s own anxieties. Over the past century