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The Idea of History is the best known work of the Oxford philosopher and historian RG Collingwood. Published posthumously in 1946 it is, in effect, two books: a historiography and a philosophy of history. Students look to Collingwood for a history of thinking about history, and to discover his ideas about the nature of historical understanding. It is an indispensable text for historians and philosophers yet it is also highly challenging and many of Collingwood's innovations have been seriously misunderstood. The primary focus of this book is on Collingwood's actual arguments, especially the most radical of these, with the aim of elucidating their construction and appraising them in the clearest possible way. This guide is the ideal companion to Collingwood's classic text both for students coming to it for the first time and for those wishing to consider its arguments afresh. It offers clear and concise accounts of the book's composition; the intellectual context of Collingwood's ideas; its central arguments concerning the nature of history; and its reception and influence.
Peter Johnson is Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, UK. His publications include R G Collingwood: An Introduction (1998) and he is currently writing the Reader's Guide to Collingwood's The Idea of History for Continuum.