restricted access What is History Now?: An Interview with David Cannadine
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Historically Speaking February 2003 What is History Today? Interviews with David Cannadine and John Gaddis.andan essay by John Lukacs WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO STUDY HISTORY? In his 1961 Trevelyan Lectures at Cambridge University, E. H. Carr asked this question, and his answer, What is History?, isstillwidely readanddebatedtoday. Two recent books examine historical scholarship and method, both drawing inspiration from Carr's classic. DavidCannadine has editeda collection ofessays, What is History Now? (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2002), presented at a 2001 conference at London's Institute ofHistorical Research anddedicatedto reviewing thestate ofthedisciplinefortyyears after Carr's lectures. AndJohn Lewis Gaddis 's The Landscape ofHistory: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford University Press, 2002) is aprovocativeessay on the historian's craft also in the tradition ofE.H. Carr. Given the enduring importance ofCarr's question andthe new light being cast on it in these books, Donald A. Yerxa interviewed Cannadineand Gaddisfor Historically Speaking. In an accompanying reviewessay,John Lukacs offers a severe critique ofboth books as well as Carr's What is History? It is clear that Carr's legacy andparticularly the relationship ofhistory to the sciences continue to arouse strongfeelings. We invite readers to examine Cannadine and Gaddis's booksfor themselves and to use thepages ofHistorically Speaking asan ongoingforum to reflecton what it means tostudy history today. What is History Now? An Interview with David Cannadine Donald Yerxa: What is History Now? is the product ofa two-day symposium hosted in November 2001 by the Institute ofHistorical Research in London. What was die purpose ofthis gathering? David Cannadine: The Institute of Historical Research is a place where we pride ourselves on bringing together historians ofdifferent backgrounds and viewpoints to discuss a variety of issues at meetings and conferences . And we thought that the fortieth anniversary ofthe publication ofE.H. Carr's What is History? would be a good time both to reevaluate the book and to think about how and where history has moved on in the intervening period. So we had a two-day symposium with more than 200 people here, and a hugely interesting time was had, after which we have been able to produce this book. Yerxa: Why have historians considered Carr's What is History? a classic treatment ofhistorical method and inquiry? Cannadine: It is interesting to think that Carr's book, written originally as the Trevelyan Lectures at Cambridge University, came out in the early 1960s as an attempt to provide a synoptic account ofwhat history appeared to be about at that time. He set out a rather panoramic account ofwhat he thought history was, which in many ways set the agenda for how history actually did develop in the 1960s and 1970s. What is History? was enormously important at that time because it did appear to tell people what historians were doing or should be doing. And since then, of course, as history has moved on, it has become something ofa period-piece classic. Having been in a sense a manifesto for the 1960s and 1970s, it has now become a retrospective monument to the 1960s and 1970s—to the way that people did history then but, in some senses, don't do history now. Yerxa: The obvious question then is what are some ofthe more significant ways that historical inquiry has been altered in the four decades since Carr's work first appeared? Cannadine:'Carr emphasized the primacy of long term economic and social forces, which he thought drove the historical process forward . He thought that extra-European history was an important subject that deserved far more attention that it was receiving at the time. He thought that history should be interdisciplinary, and we should learn from sociology. He thought history was all about explanation, about causes, about why things change. And he thought that, on the whole, individuals didn't matter very much. So, in a nutshell, Carr believed that history ought to be written in the 1960s with an emphasis on long term economic and social forces, with minimal stress on the importance of the individual, with recognition ofthe world as a whole rather than just Britain, and with focus on causation and explanation, rather than narrative or biography. And a lot ofpeople...