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The Uses of Facts: E. H. Carr: Commentaries

What Happens in this Passage?

Carr draws a distinction between facts about the past and facts of history. For the one to become the other it must be taken up by historians and pass into general use in their discourse about the past. The incident at Stalybridge Wakes has been taken up by Kitson Clark but has not yet passed into general use and cannot therefore yet be accepted as historical fact. That will in turn depend upon whether or not historians agree with, or accept as valid, the general interpretation in support of which Kitson Clark originally used it.

Commentary

This distinction between ‘facts about the past’ and ‘historical facts’ is very much Carr’s own and is not one which has generally troubled historians, nor one that they have been inclined to accept. Ironically, it was Carr’s very citing of this not-yet-a-fact that elevated it into an undeniable ‘fact of history’, to sue Carr’s term, because this example has been seized upon so often by historians and students discussing Carr’s book, rather than Kitson Clark’s. Indeed, the rather lofty role that Carr ascribes to the historian, deciding not only which facts to use but which shall gain admittance to Carr’s ‘select club’, runs directly counter to his argument elsewhere in his lectures that the historian is not superior to the facts but is in there with them.

 

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