E H CARR - mrsgraham.net

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The ENIGMATIC E H CARR
“The facts only speak when the historian calls on them: it is he who
decides which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context“
REALIST, OPTIMIST, POLEMIC!!!
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“He was someone who, shortly after his death had the rare
distinction of being violently denounced in both of the two
leading organs of British Intellectual and literary opinion,The
Times Literary Supplement and the London review of books.”
EDWARD HALLETT CARR 1892-1982
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Carr was born in London to a middle-class family, and was educated at the
Merchant Taylors' School in London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was
awarded a First Class Degree in Classics in 1916
He joined the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1916, resigning in 1936
In 1919, Carr was part of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference and
was involved in the drafting of parts of the Treaty of Versailles relating to the League
of Nations
Starting in 1929, Carr started to review books relating to all things Russian and
Soviet and to international relations in several British literary journals such as the
Fortnightly Review, The Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement and later towards the
end of his life, the London Review of Books
Because of his status as a diplomat (until 1936), most of Carr’s reviews in the
period 1929-36 were published either anonymously or under the pseudonym "John
Hallett”.
Between 1931 and 1937, Carr published many works on many historians and
history.
1939 wrote and published The Twenty Year Crisis, arguing that the peace settlement was
flawed
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After the war, Carr was a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and
then Trinity College, where he published most of his popular
works—A History of Soviet Russia and What is History
He remained at Trinity College until his death. He was a tutor
in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford from 1953 to 1955 when
he became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
In 1961 Carr published. What is History? (1961), a book based
upon his series of G. M. Trevelyan lectures, delivered at the
University of Cambridge between January-March 1961. In this
work, Carr argued that he was presenting a middle-of-the-road
position between the empirical view of history and R. G.
Collingwood's idealism
Carr would live out the remainder of his life as a Fellow of
Trinity College at Cambridge, constantly quarreling and
convinced of capitalism's imminent demise. He died of cancer
on 5 November 1982
Multiple contexts
Historical
Social
personal
• Versailles Treaty
• Government failure to deal
with the Great Depression
• Failure of League of Nations
• Russia’s Planned Economy
• Journalist and diplomat
• Not trained Historian
• Middle class liberal in
conservative school
• Writes anonymously for
Times Literary Supplement
CONTEXT AND MINDSET
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In 1940 Carr wrote a long lead article in the Times called
“The Two Scourges”, which were war and unemployment;
the first was to be avoided by new international order
based on a realistic acknowledgement of the interests of
the dominant powers, the second by adapting to the
peacetime economy many of the measures of central
planning and control that were willingly accepted in the
circumstances of war.
He evinced little sympathy for minorities of any kind and
was quoted as saying “ The peasant is the spoilt child of
Western Historians”
WORKS OF HISTORY AND
HISTORIOGRAPHY
Historical Context- WAR, DEPRESION, WAR
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"It was the Russian revolution which decisively gave me a
sense of history which I never lost and which turned me into a
historian,"
Carr claims to have been impressed by one of his teachers
saying that Herodotus view of the war with the Persians was
shaped and moulded by the time that he was living in.. “This
was a revelation and gave me my first understanding of what
History was about: the relativism of historiography.”
A History of Soviet Russia
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The decision to embark on his History of Soviet Russia
complicated his career. He was vetoed for a Chair in Russian
Studies in London for being too pro Soviet and he was in
effect blackballed for a Senior Research position at Cambridge
University because of his support for the Stalin Regime.
Setting his position clearly against the prevailing western view
he maintained that Lenin had been a nation builder and
collectivisation had been a success, at least in terms of
increasing production. He paid little public attention to the
human cost of Stalin’s regime.
CRITICAL VIEW
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“It quickly becomes evident that other than a lifelong
predilection for countering prevailing opinion, Carr lacked any
real ideological or moral conviction. He was neither proGerman nor a Marxist but simply bitter toward the bourgeois
class from which he sprang, an eternal outsider taking solace
in the politics of any social change that might usurp these
values.”
Jonathan Haslam
HISTORIOGRAPHER or HARANGUE!!!
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His What is History grew out of his Trevelyan Lectures
delivered at Cambridge University ( Carr had finally won a seat
in 1955).
In his opening he criticised the Cambridge History Faculty for
their narrow mindedness and Anglocentrism in their teaching.
However he also said that it was typical of the prevailing
parochialism in all British Universities. He accused British
intellectuals of isolating themselves from what is really going
on in the rest of the world.
He rejected mistrust and pessimism about “far reaching ideas”
and he embraced radical change.
“I remain an optimist…and fear that this country will relapse into
some nostalgic backwater.”
What is History?
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“My first answer to the question,What is History? Is that it is
a continuous process of interaction between the historian and
his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the
past.”
“….is a dialogue not between abstract ideas and individuals,
but between the society of today and the society of yesterday.
The past is intelligible to us only in the light of the present; and
we can fully understand the present only in the light of the
past.To enable man to understand the society of the past and
to increase his mastery over the society of the present, is the
dual function of history
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The facts of History never come to us pure since they do not
and cannot exist in a pure form; they are always refracted
through the mind of the recorder. It follows then that when we
take up a work of history, our first concern should not be with
facts which it contains but with the Historian who wrote it.
Study the historian before you begin to study the facts.
GOT TO LOVE THE METAPHOR!
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The facts are really not like fish at all on the fishmongers slab.
They are like fish swimming about in a vast sometimes
inaccessible ocean; and what the Historian catches will depend
partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he
chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses-these two
factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he
wants to catch. By and large the historian will get the kind of
facts he wants
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We can view the past and achieve our understanding of
the past only through the eyes of the present. The
Historian ids of his own age, and is bound to it by the
conditions of human existence. The very words which he
uses- words like democracy, empire, war, revolution- have
current connotations from which he cannot divorce
them……the use of language forbids him to be neutral
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The commonist assumption appears to be that the historian
divides his work into two sharply distinguishable phases..First
he spends a long preliminary period reading hissource and
filling his notebook with facts…then he puts his sources away
and writes his book from beginning to end.This to me is an
unconvincing and implausable picture.The writing is added to,
subtracted from, re shaped, cancelled, as I go on reading…the
more I write ,the more I know what I am looking for…the two
processes of what an economist would call input and output
go on simultaneously and are in practice part of a single
process.
IS CARR A RELATIVISTIC POST
MODERNIST?
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“ It does not follow that because a mountain appears to
take on different shapes from different angles of vision, it
has objectively no shape at all or an infinity of shapes.”
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Our examination of the relation of the Historian to the facts of history
finds us therefore, in an apparently precarious situation, navigating
delicately between the Scylla of an untenable theory of History as an
objective compilation of facts, of the unqualified primacy of fact over
interpretation, and the Charybdis of an equally untenable theory of history
as the subjective product of the mind of the Historian who establishes the
facts of history and masters them through the process of interpretation
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Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology
INTERPRETATION
Anne Curthoy
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“ He developed in all intellectual matters an esprit de
contradiction, irritated that the Western world was treating the
Russian Revolution as a mere passing event .”
“ Sometimes it could be said that he placed himself in the
Foreign office, or at least in the Chancelleries of the great
powers; he came to the writing of History relatively late and
and always retained some of the brisk instrumentalism of the
career official.”
Stefan Collini

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