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History: A Very Short Introduction

John H. Arnold

Publication Date - June 2000

ISBN: 9780192853523

152 pages

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $11.95

An engaging look at the key concepts that guide the writing of history


There are many stories we can tell about the past, and we are not, perhaps, as free as we might imagine in our choice of which stories to tell, or where those stories end. John Arnold's addition to Oxford's popular Very Short Introductions series is a stimulating essay about how people study and understand history. The book begins by inviting us to think about various questions provoked by our investigation of history, and then explores the ways in which these questions have been answered in the past. Such key concepts as causation, interpretation, and periodization are introduced by way of concrete examples of how historians work, thus giving the reader a sense of the excitement implicit in discovering the past--and ourselves.

The aim throughout History: A Very Short Introduction is to discuss theories of history in a general, pithy, and accessible manner, rather than delve into specific periods. This is a book that will appeal to all students and general readers with an interest in history or historiography.

About the Series:
Oxford's Very Short Introductions series offers concise and original introductions to a wide range of subjects--from Islam to Sociology, Politics to Classics, Literary Theory to History, and Archaeology to the Bible. Not simply a textbook of definitions, each volume in this series provides trenchant and provocative--yet always balanced and complete--discussions of the central issues in a given discipline or field. Every Very Short Introduction gives a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the subject has developed and how it has influenced society. Eventually, the series will encompass every major academic discipline, offering all students an accessible and abundant reference library. Whatever the area of study that one deems important or appealing, whatever the topic that fascinates the general reader, the Very Short Introductions series has a handy and affordable guide that will likely prove indispensable.


  • A stimulating look at how people study and understand history
  • Discusses theories of history in a general, pithy, and accessible manner
  • Key concepts such as causation, interpretation, and periodization are introduced by way of concrete examples of how historians work

About the Author(s)

John Arnold teaches history at the University of East Anglia, specializing in the medieval period and the philosophy of history.


"John Arnold builds around a few glittering fragments of the past-- a medieval murderer, a 17th-century pension to an abandoned wife, a speech by a black woman born into slavery-- a whole exhibition about what history is and is not. Writing with lucidity and passion, he lays out for inspection all the ways of recounting and exploiting the past through narrative which has been used from Herodotus to Hobsbawn. His range of knowledge and interests is phenomenal, but his skills as a communicator makes his own subtle analysis of history's history as gripping as a novel."--Neal Ascherson

"A stimulating and provocative introduction to one of collective humanity's most important quests-- understanding the past and its relation to the present. A vivid mix of telling examples and clear-cut analysis."--David Lowenthal, University College, London

"Intriguing and original in its discussion of why history matters and what are the problems inherent in studying it. The book is admirable in being discursive and thought-provoking."--Paul Freedman, Yale University

"Accessible to students and wide-ranging in content, Arnold uncovers major issues in the historical profession in a way that invites student participation."--Russ Reeves, Trinity Christian College

"Exactly what I needed. Suitable for the non-major undergrad and the graduate school bound major student."--Rea Andrew Reid, Waynesburg College

"This is an extremely engaging book, lively, enthusiastic and highly readable, which presents some of the fundamental problems of historical writing in a lucid and accessible manner. As an invitation to the study of history it should be difficult to resist."--Peter Burke, Emmanuel College, Cambridge

"A few millenia of events, millions of transcripts tucked away, uncountable lives passed, endless stories to tell. History: where to begin? John Arnold's History: A Very Short Introduction is an excellent short answer. Lucid and thoughtfully written, it will inspire confidence in students who wish to seek their own historical answers."--Dorothy Porter, Birbeck College, London

Table of Contents

    1. Questions about murder and history; 2. The history of history; 3. What really happened: truth, archives, and the love of old things; 4. Escapes from the tower; 5. Causation and interpretations; 6. Telling stories, telling tales; 7. Periodization and time; 8. Objectivity, truth, and judgement; 9. The role of the past in the present; Further reading; Index