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The Object of History

1 June 2006


The phrase ‘the object of history’ may mean all sorts of things. In this article, a distinction is made between object1, the object of study for historians, and object2, the goal or purpose of the study of history. Within object2, a distinction is made between a goal intrinsic to the study of history (object2in) and an extrinsic goal (object2ex), the latter being what the study of history should contribute to society (or anything else outside itself). The main point of the article, which is illustrated by a discussion of the work of R. G. Collingwood, E. H. Carr, and G. R. Elton, is that in the work of historians and philosophers of history, these kinds of ‘object of history’ are usually (closely) connected. If they are not, something is wrong. That does not mean, however, that historians or even philosophers of history are always aware of these connections. For that reason, the distinctions


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