thumbnail of Library of Congress lectures; Allen Nevins, part two
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
This danger is plain enough to be recognized by champions of the new approaches to history. One of these champions an anonymous essayist writing in The London Times Literary Supplement has just declared just a few months ago that the dethroned mint of the order might call it fruit. Trevelyan history. The old person motley apartment school of narrative historians will encounter angry resistance. He does not approve of this resistance. He thinks it is childish social logical thinking he writes and he my dad anthropological thinking psychological thinking of the Freud and Jung type and numerical thinking. Has your song usually been pioneered by restless by rootless intellectuals. Foreign Observers and immigrants it does not come
easily to the Anglo-American academic who has always been more closely aligned with the established social order. It involves cooperative scholarship and organized research workshops and graduate programs which are aired to the individual list primadonna tradition in which most Anglo American historians have been reared. It brings with it the risk of jargon and OB security whereas history has always been regarded as a subject which should be intelligible and attractive to the layman. In the age of the historical factory some nostalgia is inevitably felt for the simpler days of the dog mystic system. But it is misguided to resist professionalism. Away with those who would resist this champion of what I may call wild I specialized
history history districted by five or six socio economic disciplines assert that the coming revolution the overthrow of history as we used to know it must be accepted. If and when it is accepted the new tribe of historical writers can dance upon a grave of James Ford Rhodes who gave so much attention in 1900 to literary historians billion included with Lucinda D's. They can dance upon the grave of Theodore Roosevelt who delivered us a passenger on a vigorous and vivid essay on history as literate you're through the American Historical Association in 1912. But does this obliteration of the history of literature really need to be accepted. Get away not be found in which the values of the socio economic disciplines can be preserved and incorporated in the historical work that retain literary vitality and power. Cannot some compromise be
worked out. The champion of modern a specialized history of whom I have just quoted unanimous London Times essay has. It was good enough to suggest his idea of a compromise. Let the historians conform to the new demands he says. Let them accept their proper place as popularizers literary historians of the invaluable new sums of knowledge brought to them by the generalist economists sociologists psychologists and anthropologists. If history is to maintain a deserving place in the affections of the reading public continues this essay is. It is essential that those with a gift for a popular exposition should master the new techniques so that even if they do not themselves contribute to knowledge they may at least be able to evaluate the contributions of others. That is a man of literary
attainments and traditional approaches will never be able to write books of history that make any true contribution to knowledge that have any originality. But they can use their gift for popular exposition. That I know him. To make the new and really valuable history my specialists paid a little ball to the masses. They can evaluate the contributions of the real writers and tell readers what to think of them. In this compromise the old fashioned historians will get the small and humble piece apart. They will take the lure seats looking up to the new masters. This view which I am sure is held by many economists Oshie ologists and anthropologists. This denigration of the order history is antiquated and outmoded dismays me. One of my. All time students Dr Edward Savard a professor in the New School for
Social Research recently published a volume in titled American history and the social sciences was largely made up of essays contributed by men who boastfully call themselves social scientists. Some of them displayed an alarming that seemed amount of arrogance. Mr. Savva dedicated the book to me as a narrative historian. Whether he did this because he saw it in my ignorance I badly needed to read it. Or because he thought it kindly dedication would lessen the shock. I do not know. But the arrogance troubled me. As ours or sledging or Junior has remarked Some men think that social science methods are not one of several paths to social wisdom but are the central and infallible path.
They fling out challenges upon the necessity of using something called Integrated theory construction when they speak of histories in condescending terms. C. Wright Mills for example his name certainly be pronounced with great respect. In suggesting a genetic approach to social logical problems warned against. I quote that don't know a pudding called sketching in the historical background. For various reasons I think that all owe some cock sureness may be justified in converts to a new faith. The pretensions of the social scientists are U.S. generated. One reason of course is that for vast areas of historical studies their approach and skills are quite useless. Thank Heaven for that.
Another reason is that their ideas and methods must in any event be pooled with older methods and so will become less dogmatic. A third reason is that much of their material is so infernally Dall that Active Minds balk at it. The greatest reason of all is that the writing of our really impressive piece of history possessing literary distinction demands high talent and sometimes calls forth. Touches of genius. There are plenty of substitutes for the opaque prose. The social scientists can furnish. There is little substitute for high talent and none at all for genius. Why and how all have the best historical works in resin their pen because the author has a vision or an approach to while the subject takes hold of him inspires him and lifts him to a plain where he sees as in the
golden dream the volume he intends to write. He sees also that must be written in a particular way in precisely his way and no other with his selection of fact and his point of view. To take one example why did Lytton street she write Elizabeth and Essex which all will agree is a masterpiece of highly dramatic narrative history. The chances are ten to one a street she wrote it because after prolonged reading and reflection he suddenly said to himself. What a superb subject is imbedded in that particular stretch of English history. What histrionic qualities the boastful impetuous Essex the sly Francis Bacon the enigmatic cautious Elizabeth revealed. Or why did George rattle Trevelyan write Garibaldi and the thousand. Again no doubting because after travel and long
study Trevelyan said to himself I can make this Italian tale one of the most and throwing stories of daring fortitude and patriotic devotion to be told in our time. These men did not write their books because they saw an opportunity to make unprecedented explorations into the field of psychotic analysis or the sociology of rebellion. The quality of which good historical writing most demands. Said James Anthony food is what. Social awareness economic expertise. No he replied imagination. And to my mind frood was absolutely right. Imagination is essential to recreate of the past and imagination is a literary quality. The saw goes down the Mississippi River it comes to the shores of Arkansas
Louisiana. He plunges his hand over the side of the canoe in which he is riding. The imaginative historian feels the warmth of the water into which LaSalle plunged his arm. How do you imagine a good historian sees the brilliant splendor of Hannibal's single life. When Hannibal sent a messenger with a half bushel of rings taken from the dead fingers of Roman Knight slain in the battle of can I imagine native historian hears the clash and jingle of that half bushel of rains as it was poured out on the floor of the Carthaginian summit. Imagine a historian has his alliance with a novelist and with the poet. But what roads of the battlefield of Gettysburg. Cloud possessed the
hollow feel. Yes. After the bang the cannonading of lead the hollow field the maiden Missionary Ridge and the other great bridge was filled with smoke and support going on. He had heard the noise of a company Pickett's Charge the shells the explosions the whine of the bullets but something else he had heard the cry. The rebel yell. As the soldiers went across we feel. A voice that rang through Shiloh's woods and Chickamauga solitudes a fierce South sharing owner's son. Nation of the poet joins with out of the historians at critical points in any great historical work. When Kipling wrote that there are a hundred different ways of writing tribal lays and every single writer one of them is right he stated the primary
truth about history. A great historian sees how a certain subject can be shaped to make the most of the particular materials he possesses or the talents and experience years accumulated or the legitimate demands of public taste demands a change sharpened from time to time. This is right and proper especially is it right and proper for a writer to shape his book according to his talents. If he has great gifts as my friend Bruce Catton for example had in approaching the Civil War. He does this by intuition and an inner compulsion. And if he alters is designed to make room for economic factors are anthropological factors that do not come naturally to him. He is in great danger of spoiling it. Ah so as a social scientist. But look at such a famous piece of literary history of Carlyle's French Revolution. How can you defend its manifold historical inadequacies.
It should be studied by classes in English literature. But who would recommend it for study by Ernest and inform students of being a French history. It contains nothing about the financial crisis the fiscal collapse that sucked the revolution in motion. The economic specialist would throw it out of his library for that deficiency alone. It says almost nothing about the social changes that accompanied the French Revolution and nothing about the new civil institutions grew out of it. They socially ologist and the governmental specialists would condemn a brevet. What does it say about patterns of voting behavior or mob psychology. Is it more than a fossil remains in history. The true historian I think catches up this challenge at once. What does Carlyle's French Revolution offer he has little of that the social science specialist values everything that the
humanist values are not historians humanists. It has passages of his tremendous moral force as were ever written reminding us that Gerda told a c'mon that young Carlyle would produce masterpieces of moral insight. It has passages of Sue Perpich Tauriel vividness. Remind us of like his remark that Carlyle saw the French Revolution as my lightning flashes. It has a burning intensity few writers can match the firmaments uncertainty bursting from a heart to heart and sleepless brain. So so that is Carlisle himself put it his writings rushed up like rockets drove by their own burning on a strictly historical society side it has a perception that the best French authorities have admired for Carlyle as Pres R. Laurent writes Percy viewed that the common people
of France were the true heroes of the epic struggle. It has a command of the psychology both of individuals and masses that possesses almost unique value. As Jay Holland Rose States Carlyle shows us the workings of the human heart as no other historian of institutions and you know microscopic analysts like tain has ever done or ever will do. It is for the social science specialists to annotate Carlyle as they have done. And not for modern Carlyle's. If we are fortunate enough to produce one to undertake or popularize the books of the social science specialists. The first requirement. Of the true lover of history.
Is a visual delight in its endless varieties that he should be tolerant of all themes all approaches and all styles so long as the work under examination meets two or three tests. First it must be written in a patient search for truth about some theories or segment of the past. And imagination must go into the search. Imagination as a literary as well as a historical tool. In the second place its presentation of truth must be designed to give moral and intellectual nutriment to the spirit of man just as our most ambitious poetry and fiction and philosophy should be so designed and this design is again essentially a literary design. Why did two cities describes or graphic allay the terrible plague which shook the Peloponnesian army and paint so faithfully the public
attributes of Paraguay's for precisely the same reason I take it that Escalus wrote the great drama of Agamemnon. And that you repeat these wrote the drama of media. They wish to probe spiritual and moral situations in a search for truth. Now they intended to provide moral and intellectual nutriment for the spirit of mime. You take a modern instance why did our own Henry Carrie Lee write in such richly documented form his history of the inquisition of the Middle Ages. Probably the most important contribution any American has made to European history. Why did he present all the horrors of the inquisition with calm judicial pen. Because I think he felt that the truth would carry sweeping moral lessons and far back in college days I read those three volumes. I had a
teacher at hand guy Stanton Ford. Many of you knew here in Washington who could tell me how controversial they were. Lord Acton a Catholic took some different views of the Inquisition. Happily I did not linger over the adverse criticism I pressed on to devour what to me is the most memorable of Allee's books is depressing volume on the Morris schools of Spain their conversion and exposure. With its climax in the forcible exile of the Hispanic Moors who had built so richly attractive a civilization southern Spain this masterly study of the brutalities of political India these EOS ical intolerance and the ensuing material and moral losses that crippled the Spanish nation for generations was but I far away awesome story to the sophomore in the
University of Illinois. Later it did not seem so far away. When the Nazi persecution of the Jews repeated the story with terrible additions I was writing a good deal for the press. The fierce truthfulness of Lee's history and his profound moral and material lessons could then be recollected in their full force. But she had made his books works of literature no less and of history. The list of works that meet the great test I have named is long. And steadily grows longer. Something good to be said of a third test the test of style. The nature of style however is often mis conceived. Style is the man. That is style is most important when it reflects the rich full personality of a writer of intellectual power and fully developed
character. And through this writer something of the temper and outlook of an era. So it was with Gibbon part run with Macaulay and William Hickling Prescot their style was not impersonal because of condensed phrases ingenious tropes and well climax chapters. It was memorable because the full personality of the author and the age shone through a certain eye pro-style is never given a striking distinction by anything that the apparatus of the social scientist can impart to it. Indeed such scientists are likely to corrupt and debase it. Will you make peace Dockery once wrote a piece of history. The four Georges of surpassing stylistic mirth experts in economics socially ology and anthropology. Could add a great deal to the content of these historical essay. But at the cost of
depriving a classic work of all its essential vitality. If anyone doubts that the spirit of an age counts as much in the production of a distinctive style as the mind and character of the author. And Lenny might ask whether the outlook and I had a tude. I don't it is a brutally romantic and I'm hopeful optimistic young America do not appear in these spirited highly colored narratives of William Hickling Prescot young author Motley in Francis park and park run. Or let him consider what ménard Keane's writes in his essay on while this about the British tradition of humane science. The spirit of the long lead. Again speaks of and I quote that tradition of English and Scottish thought in which there has been I think an extraordinary continuity of
feeling. If I may so express it from the 18th century to the present time. A tradition which is suggested by the names of luck hill man Adam Smith Paley Bentham Darwin and John Stuart Mill a tradition marked by a love of truth and a most noble lucidity by a prosaic sanity free from sentiment of metaphysic and by own I mince disinterestedness and public spirit. There is a continuity in these writings not only of feeling but of actual matter in the quotation. If this could be said of the thinkers of a long scientific age could not a parallel statement was an equally impressive list of names be made upon the historians. If any social scientist will look with candid eyes at the world's great treasury of historical writing and consider how much of the best of this
writing his narrative descriptive and expose are Torii and how little of it is analytical he will arise from this examination with a chastened temper. If he will further consider how well the best narrative and descriptive histories have endured the truth of time and how rapidly once famous pieces of analytic history have become dated and empty he will have further food for thought. A humble temperate if it be fits all historians and the social scientists would do well to cultivate a little of it knowing that it will deny that they can give us valuable new patterns of thought useful new insights and large bodies of original new facts. They could stimulate our minds widen our vision and what our desire for deeper truths like every study history needs constantly to face new fronts and absorb new ideas and techniques. As Today we have a new painting a
new music and a new poetry. So unquestionably we need in some fields a new history. These fields however are limited. Look at the important historical works of our time and ask how many of them could have been improved by specialized elements drawn from the social sciences. Good van white books as half dozen volumes of American cultural history beginning with the flowering of doing good have been so improved. Good Samuel Eliot Morison has a great series on naval history beginning with his maritime New England and ending with his record of the Pacific War have been so improved. Or to turn to monographs Goodwater Prescot Williams epochal book on the application of the Industrial Revolution to the Conquest and settlement of the trance Mississippi. Country the Great Plains published a generation ago.
We made more interesting or appealing or significant to the general reader or essential to the student. My application of the newer concepts. The answer is not in any striking degree. We have come a long way since George Bancroft could seriously declare that written history is the story of God working by examples. And since John last remark like under-served had a critical and complicated century in European history should be viewed just primarily as an 80 years war for liberty. The old theological and political prepossessions have largely vanished. They have given way in great part to the scientific age. The experts in the social sciences can help us gather more of the fruits of this age. Frederick Jackson Turner was right when you wrote that data from studies of politics economics social elegies
psychology by ology and fizzy all graffiti all must be used. Nevertheless the grand outlines and the vital principles of history as it has been written down the ages still stand. The newer studies have no up occasion whatever to why do areas of history and when they do apply should be regarded as adventitious and subordinate. Let the social scientists in presenting their discoveries remember the truth that Emerson put into a pregnant sentence. It is not worthwhile to go around the world to count the number of cats in Zanzibar. And were to A.
Library of Congress lectures
Allen Nevins, part two
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-zg6g6304).
Episode Description
This program, the second of two parts, presents American historian Allen Nevins, on the writing of history.
Other Description
A series of lectures given at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.2-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:30
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures; Allen Nevins, part two,” 1967-03-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 13, 2022,
MLA: “Library of Congress lectures; Allen Nevins, part two.” 1967-03-13. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 13, 2022. <>.
APA: Library of Congress lectures; Allen Nevins, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from