The best books on how historians work

Yulia Ustinova Author Of Divine Mania: Alteration of Consciousness in Ancient Greece
By Yulia Ustinova

The Books I Picked & Why

A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet

By Natalie Zemon Davis

Book cover of A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet

Why this book?

A Passion for History is a conversation between Natalie Zemon Davis, a prominent historian and an extraordinary woman, with Denis Crouzet, also a historian and a sharp observer. Above all, they discuss how to do research, write, and teach history. In addition, Natalie Zemon Davis shares her memories of being an ambitious Jewish girl in America of the 40s and her way to combine academic aspirations with family life, and her views on other subjects, such as politics, feminism, cinema, and freedom. This lively dialogue of two remarkable intellectuals is a thrilling read.

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An Autobiography

By R.G. Collingwood

Book cover of An Autobiography

Why this book?

In a biography of a person whose occupation was to think, the most exciting part is how their thought evolved. Robin G. Collingwood is a prominent philosopher and a historian of Roman Britain. His autobiography is precious because it is an earnest reflection on how his perception of history and the approaches to its study developed over his lifetime - a door open into the mind of a philosopher of history.

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The Historian’s Craft

By Marc Bloch

Book cover of The Historian’s Craft

Why this book?

Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft is the exact translation of the French title of this book, written in 1941-42 by Marc Bloch, a great historian who was executed in 1944 as a member of the French Resistance. In his testament, Marc Block wished two words to be incised on his tombstone: dilexit veritatem (‘he loved the truth). The book is about the technique of understanding the present by means of studying the past. The fact that Apology of History, or the Historian’s Craft was written in the midst of the war explains the original title. The ultimate defense of history is that proper research allows comprehension of complex human situations, such as wars, therefore every detail of the historian’s craft is of profound importance.

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What Is History?

By Edward Hallet Carr

Book cover of What Is History?

Why this book?

This book is a classic, for more than half a century, and remains the starting point in the current discussion of the historian’s craft. Edward H. Carr underscores the importance of dialogue in the study of history. History is a process of interaction between the historian and their facts, or between the past and the present. In this dialogue, the historian is not an objective reporter or analyst, but an individual whose world view and scientific approach are shaped by society.

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In Defense of History

By Richard J. Evans

Book cover of In Defense of History

Why this book?

This book is a reflection on the nature of historical research and the perils of history in the postmodern age. An influential current in the study of history has abandoned the aspiration of getting close to the truth and accepts ideologically motivated accounts of the past as equally valuable narratives. The repercussions of the controversy on ‘post-truth’ reach far beyond the limits of the academic world and are ubiquitous in contemporary Western society. Richard J. Evans knows that from his own experience, having served as an expert witness in Irwing v Penguin Books and Lipstadt libel case, relating to Holocaust denial. The book offers a lucid analysis of the conflicting trends in the theory and practice of historical research. It links between the study of the past and the possibility of attaining certainty on present-day issues.

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