Gone fishin’

History in cupfuls
by
January–February 2022, no. 439
Buy this book

What Is History, Now?: How the past and present speak to each other edited by Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $32.99 pb, 339 pp

Gone fishin’

History in cupfuls
by
January–February 2022, no. 439

In early 1961, historian Edward Hallett Carr (1892–1982) delivered a series of lectures on his craft. The resulting book, What Is History?, was a provocation to his peers and a caution against positivist views of the past. He urged the reader to ‘study the historian before you begin to study the facts’. He illuminated the subjectivities of the historical process, from the moment a ‘fact’ occurs to when it is called as such, through the endurances and erasures of archival selection to the silences created by the historian’s narrative choices. The most famous passages are Carr’s maritime metaphors, in which he likens ‘facts’ to ‘fish swimming in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean’. What the historian will catch depends on the kind of facts she wants, and once they reach the fishmonger’s slab, she will cook and serve them ‘in whatever style appeals’. ‘History,’ Carr concluded, ‘means interpretation.’

Billy Griffiths reviews 'What Is History, Now? How the past and present speak to each other' edited by Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb

What Is History, Now?: How the past and present speak to each other

edited by Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $32.99 pb, 339 pp

Buy this book

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