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In Defense of History

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Overview

A master practitioner gives us an entertaining tour of the historian's workshop and a spirited defense of the search for historical truth.
E. H. Carr's What Is History?, a classic introduction to the field, may now give way to a worthy successor. In his compact, intriguing survey, Richard J. 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. Evans defends this commitment to historical knowledge from the attacks of postmodernist critics who see all judgments as subjective. Evans brings "a remarkable range, a nose for the archives, a taste for controversy, and a fluent pen" (The New Republic) to this splendid work. "Essential reading for coming generations."-Keith Thomas

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
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
Booknews
Evans modern history, Cambridge U. addresses postmodernist proclamations that history is complacent, endangered, or dead. He describes history as a distinctive type of knowledge, elaborating its processes and boundaries and reassessing standard views on historiography. This edition is modified for an American readership. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR booknews.com
Kirkus Reviews
A lucid, muscular, and often sly reflection on the nature of historical knowledge by an experienced practicing historian. It is difficult to imagine a stronger or more convincing case than Evansns for the distinctiveness of historical knowledge as a mode of human thought. For in reading him, one joins company with someone who finds history a matter, as Allan Nevins long ago put it, of "free and joyous pursuit." Amid agonies of doubt about the future of history in a postmodern world, Evans, a historian of Germany (Cambridge University), confidently defends the autonomy of historical knowledge. Amid an outpouring of dire warnings about the crisis in historical studies, he bracingly champions history's enduring value even as its intellectual underpinnings undergo great change. He resolutely avoids ideology. In fact, contrary to its title, his book is more an explanation of what historians seek to accomplish than it is a defense of what's written in Clio's name; he takes the offensive against the worst excesses of postmodernism. Some may tire of Evans's steadfast centrism, but common sense may be scorned at some cost. The author doesnnt confuse a piety for history with a piety for individual historians. Rather, he brings colleagues, quick or dead, left or right, north or south, into the ring and merrily wrestles many to the ground. He does so always with respect, never with the moralistic or ideological animus of so many works in the same vein. His chapters about the history of history, historical facts, causation, and objectivity, and about issues of historical "science," morality, evidence, and power are models of their kind. A highly useful bibliographical essay tops it all off. A deft,accessible work for anyone who wishes to learn what historians do, how they think, and where they fail.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393319590
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 341,272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard J. Evans is professor of modern history at Cambridge University. A preeminent historian of Germany, his books include Death in Hamburg and In Hitler's Shadow.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface to the American Edition
Introduction 1
1 The History of History 13
2 History, Science, and Morality 39
3 Historians and Their Facts 65
4 Sources and Discourses 89
5 Causation in History 111
6 Society and the Individual 139
7 Knowledge and Power 165
8 Objectivity and Its Limits 193
Notes 221
Further Reading 253
Index 273
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2007

    Why I liked In Defense of History

    I really enjoyed reading Evans book In Defense of History. Evans brought to my attention that History is just not the study of the past but it is the study of all of the stuff in between too. He made me realize that for me to become a great historian I have to research all of the information that is not offered to me. Evans title suits the book very well because even though Evans has some people in the book that do not always agree with him he does a great job in defending History as a whole just not as one part of our world. I really enjoyed reading this book. Evans offers readers great evidence of the past and if we did not know the past then we would not know history but history is not only the past it is the future our future.

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    Posted August 19, 2009

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    Posted March 23, 2009

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