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by Richard J. Evans

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04687-7
Publisher: Norton

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 Evans’s 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 doesn—t 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.