History – IELTS Reading Exercise


Hi everyone!

This week’s IELTS Reading Exercise is based on the IELTS matching sentence endings  format.

Read the following passage from What is History? by E.H. Carr , which contains each of the words from yesterday’s vocabulary list.  Complete each sentence with the correct ending, A-F.

  1. The commonsense view states that
  2. The historian is entitled to rely on
  3. Journalists know that the best way to influence public opinion is
  4. A fact is said to be like a sack, because
  5. The reason for interest in the Battle of Hastings is that
  6. It is preposterous to believe that


A. The auxiliary sciences of history

B.  It won’t stand up until you put something in it

C.  By the selection and arrangement of the appropriate facts

D. Historians regard it as a major historical event

E. There are certain basic facts which are the same for all historians.

F. A hard core of historical facts exists independently of the interpretation of the historian.



What is a historical fact?. This is a crucial question into which we must look a little more closely. According to the commonsense view, there are certain basic facts which are the same for all historians and which form, so to speak, the backbone of history – the fact, for example, that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. But this view calls for two observations. In the first place, it is not with facts like these that the historian is primarily concerned. It is no doubt important to know that the great battle was fought in 1066 and not in 1065 or 1067, and that it was fought at Hastings and not at Eastbourne or Brighton. The historian must not get these things wrong. But, when points of this kind are raised, I am reminded of Housman’s remark that ‘accuracy is a duty, not a virtue’.

To praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using well-seasoned timber or properly mixed concrete in his building. It is a necessary condition of his work, but not his essential function. It is precisely for matters of this kind that the historian is entitled to rely on what have been called the’ auxiliary sciences’ of history – archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, chronology, and so forth. The historian is not required to have the special skills which enable the expert to determine the origin and period of a fragment of pottery or marble, to decipher an obscure inscription, or to make the elaborate astronomical calculations necessary to establish a precise date. These so-called basic facts, which are the same for all historians, commonly belong to the category of the raw materials of the historian rather than of history itself. The second observation is that the necessity to establish these basic facts rests not on any quality in the facts themselves, but on an a priori decision of the historian. In spite of C. P. Scott’s motto, every journalist knows today that the most effective way to influence opinion is by the selection and arrangement of the appropriate facts. It used to be said that facts speak for themselves. This is, of course, untrue. The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context. It was, I think, one of Pirandello’s characters who said that a fact is like a sack – it won’t stand up till you’ve put something in it. The only reason why we are interested to know that the battle was fought at Hastings in 1066 is that historians regard it as a major historical event. It is the historian who has decided for his own reasons that Caesar’s crossing of that petty stream, the Rubicon, is a fact of history, whereas the crossing of the Rubicon by millions of other people before or since interests nobody at all. The fact that you arrived in this building half an hour ago on foot, or on a bicycle, or in a car, is just as much a fact about the past as the fact that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. But it will probably be ignored by historians. Professor Talcott Parsons once called science’ a selective system of cognitive orientations to reality’.  l It might perhaps have been put more simply. But history is, among other things, that. The historian is necessarily selective. The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy, but one which it is very hard to eradicate.

E.H Carr, “What is History”.

As always, feedback and comments are welcome.



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