Posted by: aboutalbion | May 30, 2012

What is History? (8)

‘History as Progress’ is the title of Carr’s next chapter.  Carr prefers the notion of historical evolution over historical progress because the former includes the idea of backward as well as forward changes.

Carr contrasts the status of history among Greeks and Romans with the status of history among Jews and then Christians.  “… the writers of classical antiquity were on the whole as little concerned with the future as with the past.  …  History was not going anywhere: because there was no sense of the past, there was equally no sense of the future.” (p103f)  Whereas, among the Jews and subsequently the Christians, ‘an entirely new element’ was introduced into historiography.  This was the idea of teleology, the notion that the divine had a design and a purpose in the natural world.

Carr quotes Professor Butterfield with approval: “For the historian, the only absolute is change.” (p115)  ‘History … can be written only by those who find and accept a sense of direction in history itself.  The belief that we have come from somewhere is closely linked with the belief that we are going somewhere.’ (p126f)

If social forces are identified as the agents of change, then I find that the issue of whether or not these social forces can represent the divine is a methodological matter of primary importance.

[Carr, E H (2001) What is History? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.]

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