Peter Ghosh

Peter Ghosh is a fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford.

Laid Down by Ranke: defending history

Peter Ghosh, 15 October 1998

Richard Evans hopes that this book will take the place of E.H. Carr’s What is History? and G.R. Elton’s The Practice of History as the ‘basic introduction’ to history as taught in the universities. Evans is a self-declared ‘Rankean’ empiricist, committed to Ranke’s view that facts and documents ‘speak for themselves’. He believes that the proper method for historians today is the same as it has always been, at least since the 19th century, when the rules of historical practice were ‘laid down by Ranke’ and the discipline was established ‘on a professional or scientific basis’. These rules hinge on source criticism and the proposition that the assertions of historical writing are verifiable. ‘History is an empirical discipline,’ Evans argues; the history we write ‘certainly will not be objective, but is nevertheless true’; we ‘really can find out’ how the past happened, although our conclusions will always be ‘less than final’. Such ‘good rules’, according to Evans, ‘transcend scholarly communities and do not therefore depend on their acceptance by them’. But is it possible in the Nineties for a Rankean empiricist to supply an adequate account of history as a scholarly discipline?‘

How We Got to Where We Are

Peter Ghosh, 28 November 1996

In 1987, David Cannadine concluded an essay on what he saw as the dark and doubtful state of British history with a call to ‘fashion a new version of the national past which can regain its place in our general national culture, and become once again an object of international interest’. A job application posted through the unusual medium of a scholarly journal? I doubt it, but it may be that this essay found its way onto a desk at Penguin Books, leading to Cannadine’s appointment, in 1988, as general editor of the new Penguin History of Britain. Eight years on – two years longer than it took to commission and publish the entire series of the old Pelican History of England (1949-55) – we see the first fruits of the appointment.’


Let’s Celebrate

11 June 2009

When Mark Kishlansky claims that the English Civil Wars have been ‘the fulcrum of British history’ ever since David Hume, he is talking bunk and not history (LRB, 11 June). Far be it from me to say what actually happened in the mid-17th century, but the received wisdom after 1688 – the true fulcrum – was precisely as Blair Worden suggests: that the Civil Wars were a pointless, bloody exercise...

Hamlet Haiku

21 June 2007

On reading Colin Burrow (LRB, 21 June):Hamlet was not longFor this world – but six hundredPages in pb.

Pulling Ranke

15 October 1998

Among the many uncertainties of life, Richard Evans’s intellectual energy and inexhaustible appetite for pugilism stand out like friendly beacons, but I shall not undertake to unpick all of the confusion and backsliding in his complaints about my review of In Defence of History (Letters, 26 November 1998). I make one general point. My review hinged on two propositions: first, that to understand the...

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