What is History?

I’m current reading John Tosh’s The Pursuit of History. The book provides a general introduction to the discipline of History. A few thoughts have captured my attention in many regards. First of all, Tosh reviews the main tenets of E. H. Carr’s work: “What is History,” in which he notes several important points. According to Carr, “History was an unending dialogue between the past and the present.” In this aspect, the present is interpreted by the past and its existence is contingent and depends on past events. In other words, the present can only be meaningful when it is studied in light of the past. Carr could also observe further that History is, ” To learn about the present in the light of the past means also to learn about the past in the light of the present. The function of history is to promote a profounder understanding of both past and present through the interrelation between them” (62). Hence, we could also conclude that the present and past complement each other in respect to their interrelationship and interdependence. So what is the job of the historian? It is to reconstruct the past against the background of its historical milieu. But, that is not the only job of the historian. The historian expect labors to find continuity and discontinuity between the present and the past. The reconstruction of past events is a matter of the historian’s preference, discrimnation, and careful selection of (his)source materials. Moreover, Carr has also demonstrated that, “At every level of historical enquiry, from the choice of source materials through to the finished work of history, the present intrudes on the reconstruction of the past” ( Tosh, What is History,? Xii.

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