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In cooperation with the Library of Congress national educational radio presents a lecture by the noted historian Allan Nevins. This like it was recorded under the auspices of the Gertrude Clark with all poetry and literature are found at the Library of Congress. Professor Nevins will be introduced by the Librarian of Congress Dr. L. Quincy Mumford. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to introduce to you this evening a distinguished American scholar the historian Alan Evans to speak on the writing of history. Born in 1890 at Camp point Illinois he holds an A B and A degree from the University of Illinois and a degree from Oxford University and more than a score of honorary doctorates from institutions in this country and abroad. His career began in journalism and between the years
1913 and 1931. He wrote editorials for The Nation The New York Evening Post and The New York world as well as serving during 1924 and 25. As literary editor for The New York Sun in 1928 after a year as professor of American history at Cornell University. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in whose history department he centered his brilliant career of teaching research and writing. Over the next 30 years since 1958 when he retired from Columbia as DeWitt clan and professor emeritus of American history he has been senior to say just as associate at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino California. A past president of the American
Historical Association and I know this is sad of American historians and chairman of the US Civil War Centennial Commission. He's also a member of many other scandalous societies among them the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It would be difficult to choose from his many published works. Those for which he is best known to biography is Grover Cleveland. A study in carriage and Hamilton Fish. The End of History of the Grant administration and him the Pulitzer Prize in via graphy in 1933 and in 1937 respectively. The first two volumes of this comprehensive work on the Civil War published in 1947 under the title
ordeal of the union won both the Scrivener centenary award and Columbia University's Bancroft prize volumes 3 and for the emergence of Lincoln were published in 1950 and volumes 5 and 6. The war for the union in 1959 and 1960. His book forward the Times a man and a company published in 1954 was the first of a three volume work on the Ford Motor Company is second and third volumes were written with the collaboration of Frankie Hill and published in 1957 and 63 among his other books. The gateway to history. John D Rockefeller. The Heroic Age of American enterprise and heaven h Lehmann and his era the foregoing was
said to illustrate only a part of Doctor in the heavens published work. But to recite every title would be to preempt this stage too long. It is a great pleasure to welcome one of our past on American silence and American history. Anna Fran an advisor to the Library of Congress in various capacities is fun many is. Ladies and gentlemen Alan Evans. Thank you. Thank. You. They just and gentleman when I sees many familiar faces here it would be more appropriate just
say my friends. It is recorded that. When the British Empire went to war and nineteen hundred and fourteen one of the outlying independents is astonished the British cabinet sitting anxiously in Downing Street with a message it rendered Barbados is behind you. I presume that I appear here to assure the august news client that I am behind history its writing its reading and his future growth. When James Ford Rhodes delivered his presidential address to the American Historical Association in Boston in 1999 he remarked with unwarranted modesty that he would be vain indeed if he thought he could say anything new about historical pursuits.
Perhaps I may echo the dipper Kotori sentence that he added to a sympathetic audience Rhodes declared. Two people who love history. There is always the chance that a fresh treatment may present the commonplaces in some different combination. And all it meant for a moment and interest which is perennial. History becomes a more formidable subject every year. Once his tools were simple and familiar. The most important being merely diligence accuracy and judgment. Once it concerned itself with themes that might be called Majestic but that were certainly plain and understandable. These subjects for the English speaking peoples were primarily a political constitutional and religious history was regarded as a treaty for lawyers legislators governors politicians teachers and ministers.
Political Order and constitutional regularity were deemed the two greatest contributions of the English and American peoples to human society. They were off to historical things in themselves. Still a loftier if viewed as contributions to the history of freedom. Our proudest work or freedom and equality our proudest phrase. Henry Adams one of the ablest figures in the old tradition of historical writing and I should interject a statement attendee Adams was a great deal more than a historian he was a man of letters in the broadest sense. And yeah that was brave that the grand central theme in studying our past ought to be national character its sources its growth and its results. That is he believed this before he became
fascinated by the gallery of machines in the Paris Exposition of 1900 and by the 40 foot dynamo was humming there. Before as he writes my historical neck was broken by the eruption of forces totally new. He had written his nine volume history of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison he tells us to delineate the character of the young republic although only six chapters in the first volume and four in the ninth volume dealt in any direct way with the character of the American people. Most later historians have pronounced Adams as theme and wants to broaden to narrow the character. It was too broad in the sense that it was too big a thing subjective for anything can be read into the national character. We are a country of contradictions. As an
English traveller I once remarked. It was the word was too narrow as a theme in that character however defined is only one strand in the complex web of human development. The modern historian insists upon studying society as a whole in its entirety and its constant flux. Yes higher Tud and tools have therefore become as complex as self. He wishes to know as many facts about social structure as Sidney and Beatrice welcome you in England or John R. Commons loo on the side of the Atlantic and more. He feels he must know something about the latest theories applicable to social change and he hopes to learn as much as RH Tawney learned about the way in which political doctrines and religious beliefs
and economic interests are all knit together by a thousand through it is one of Henry Adams's regrets. Had he lived longer we would have been that. Tony wrote only one book. I was searching original and stimulating as his religion and the price of capitalism that volume which appeared in 1926 really does tell us a great deal about the relation of character individual honesty industry efficiency dedicated enterprise to history. The modern historian wishes also to be as keenly alert to new tools as the post graduate students were declaring today in a hundred universities that much as they would value the command of another language like Russian. They would value still more a full knowledge of computers. That is they would value and understanding of the way in which the
most expert numerical techniques and the best use of statistics can cast new light upon a hundred subjects ranging from poverty in Alabama to voting patterns in Chicago. In brief the modern student of history feels that he must know something of a broad array of new conceptual tools. Economic social logical anthropological statistical psychological in analyzing the development of society as a totality. He believes that we move forward in our mastery of the past not alone by fact robbing. All that remains important. But also by the use of new bodies of knowledge new interpretations and new theories. When James poor girls wrote the presidential paper I have just mentioned. He made it an essay you have sufficient literary distinction
to be published in The Atlantic Monthly of 1900 the Atlantic then be edited on rather old fashioned lines by Bliss Perry before Ellery Sedgwick waked it up. But even in 1900 Rhodes's essay but his long passages on arrive at us and through cities and its praise of Macaulay Leckie and Carlyle. If mortals all. Had a distinctly will fashion dare the author clear to possess no idea that a great new historical study called demography was already been born. He had little realisation that a new connection between psychology and history was a period. Tinge by the ideas of Freud and Jung which would soon enable young American scholars to explain the personalities of the sleeve and the slaveowner. Many in Home
James Ford Rhodes was of course deeply interested in more acute and Company terms. Rhodes could not foresee any more than you and I could only a quarter century ago. That numerical studies of society that is numerical analysis of population at different age levels numerical analyses of epidemics and mortality of food production and the incidence of malnutrition and other subjects would soon become important. Two years ago we had Mr. Peter Lassally out of Cambridge University with us in the Huntington Library. He first opened my eyes to the fact that the whole thought and outlook of a source cited a day in which the average life span of its members covered only 30 years as in Shakespeare's day was an escape a burden quite different from the thought and
outlook of a society in which the average life span covered 60 years and it will soon cover 70 or 80. This is one of the most interesting facts facets of demography. And when I read Peter Lassally book The World We have lost a broader study of the social stuff a structure of pre industrial Britain applicable to America. He opened my eyes again. As for social anthropology and cultural anthropology they were alike unknown in their present day meaning when James Ford Rhodes wrote for example the blood feud as it was known in the antebellum south and was pictured in Mark Twain's tragic chronicle of the battles of the Shepherdson. And Granger Ford's two clans in Huckleberry Finn cried in vain for
an analysis by a cultural anthropologist Mr. Botha Shepherdson like Colonel Granger furred was a patrician and in his own eyes a fine Southern gentleman. He could nevertheless shoot down a 14 year old boy in cold blood and feel proud of the fact. Circumstance that only the social anthropologist could properly explain. All really advanced historians rejoiced when one social anthropologist Miss Ruth Benedict just after the last great war reduced her to a stork a study of the Japanese character in titled The Chrysanthemum and the sword. Her title emphasized you evident contradictions in the national character. The contradictions between the aesthetic sense of morality have and the unimaginative ruthlessness of the Japanese. Their
loyalty and treachery their passionate interest in the new and fervent attachment to the old their discipline and insubordination stoicism and sentimental self-pity so eminent a history of Japan as the late Sir George sent some of the best historian and the oriental nation has had tells us that he had often felt impatient and confused because of his failure to grasp the national character of Japan. That he had almost concluded that only a creative artist could do the job. Perhaps such an artist could a little man date the problem by flashes of insight as. Some some said Somerset mome. Seemed to have illuminated the Spanish temperament in his novel. Don Fernando. But when Sansom read the chrysanthemum and the sword and he was teaching at Columbia with us when he
did he took heart he saw how well anthropological insights could serve history. As the new tools were applied. And his new conceptual analyses of old historical problems are developed out of the constant advances in all the social disciplines we catch at least glimmerings of a broader outlook upon history. The new tools do not in themselves guarantee bread. We might search for bread in vain in the work of such a revolutionary experiment or with fresh techniques as Sir Louis now mere. For all his ingenuity and penetration in the exploration of British political history in fact NAMEER has had little popular following in Great Britain and none at all in the United States. Although he founded a distinct historical school he never showed
enough elevation or vision to capture the public knowledge. Yet it is a fact that in the United States three historians who have made the deepest impression on our time have done so also explosive new ideas related to the social studies. The three are Frederick Jackson Turner who demonstrated the significance of the frontier as an evolutionary molder of the American people. Vernon L. Parrington who in creating the history of our literate Europe chose in his own words to follow the broad path. Of political economic and social development rather than the narrow valid Christic path. And Charles E. beard who in his economic interpretation of Jeffersonian democracy which is much much better and sounder book than his economic interpretation of
the Constitution showed that after our Constitution was ratified it still had to be filled in and given life. That this had to be done by active well organized parties and that under Hamilton's leadership the party which most took charge of the development. Acted on economic lines for purposes mainly economic. All three historians provoked a vast debate and all three would have subscribed to a sentence that I heard Hugh Trevor Roper recently came to Los Angeles for a half year in NC Roper said. All historical developments including religious developments are meaningless except in their social framework. The clear truth I think is that while superficial aspects of
society change rapidly the fundamental character of society alters but slowly and gradually and alters rather by a mass action and by individual leverage. And this statement bears of course upon our conception of the place of the great man the hero in history. Tocqueville declared that this was true. Of the United States. Society changed in its fundamentals but slowly superficially changed with great rapidity. And it changed by my side and he thought my individual leverage. It's another great truth although it was discovered only in the last century that ideas more often percolate upward in society then they move downward. This was not at all the belief of a historian like frood in England as we can see by reading what proved rock wrote of Francis Bacon or waltzing. Or was it the belief of Francis Parkman in America.
As we can see while reading what he wrote on Frontenac and love are they held of the great personality genius arose that his ideas were at first too advanced for the world of his time. But they slowly moved down to the populace. There might be some that history is past politics. A statement at Johns Hopkins University inscribed on its walls can no longer be accepted if we throw our impress us upon the history of integrated society. A quite full size idea of history is in the book aided by such misleading labels as the Jacksonian era. Or the era of spirit or Roosevelt. A man of great force of character like Andrew Jackson or great ability combined with force of character like Theodore Roosevelt to do in certain circumstances assuming the
role of captains having great movements. But are they truly the creators of a new era. Very seldom is this the fact they may take charge of the impulses that had their route so far back in the past and were growing powerful before they seized the helm. I just want Andrew Jackson who took charge of him also going far back in the Jeffersonian period. How did or they meet be catalysts of great vaguely defined bodies of opinion that they can give their shape and direction and convert into active force us as the Theodore Roosevelt. They often of course feel an important third role in becoming centers of legend. Mists accumulate about them. And the myths invented by partisans and followers heightening their stature and thus magnifying their influence become
powerful in themselves. And a student of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln has to distinguish between the real Jefferson and the legendary Jefferson. A task that Henry Adams in his history found difficulty indeed. And between the actual Lincoln and the Lincoln that Carl Sandburg turned in so appear that you know a figure of poetry and fable and solid human worth a try to dimension a Lincoln. Oh that's far. I have spoken respectfully and appreciatively of the new approaches to history and the new tools available in writing about it. I would just like exceedingly to have people call me at this stage of my life and all told me. I'm happy to say that at this stage in the development of the United States we
have a new development of interest in the reading of history that never has history been more popular than ever said had more thoughtful students that its practitioners have lifted it to soar to new heights. I can remember when Carl Van Doren wrung out his great book on Benjamin Franklin how we applauded it. We and some of us were trying to found a magazine of history which now exists and which has a circulation I am glad to say of three hundred and thirty thousand copies. Every issue we were trying to locate the idea that history could be written in terms it would be interesting to the masses and hear how Van Doren and his Benjamin Franklin proved it. How happy we were and then Mike Brooks made his great success with the flowering of New England followed by his
success with the world of Washington Irving and other books. Our cultural history retold in new terms and then Bruce Caton came on the stage and was presently writing a silence at the hallmarks as every evidence of genius and some of his chapters and we had women who began to write history in modern terms with great short significance and he lead us is rather Pulitzer arrival in Washington which every citizens of Washington ought to know thoroughly. Wonderful account of this amidst of the Civil War. Barbara Tuchman The Guns of August and we had such figures have had such figures as Edmund Wilson. It was book on Patriotic War this one that I wish that I had written. How happy anybody would be to have written such a masterpiece is that and we have
gifted new writers like Cornelius Ryan who in The Longest Day and the last man teaches us all the lessons in the writing of history amassing of data and the outline of a composite pattern of history. Well. I thought and I respectfully and appreciatively of the new approaches to history new tools in the hands of writers as gifted as RH Tawney and Ruth Benedict these tools they obviously mean of arresting and enduring value. But let me speak now indifferent in critical terms. The grim objection to this newer history based upon the social studies social science or social. Commendably yours as it is to treat society as a whole. And most creditably alert to all the fresh topics and instruments
supplied by various specialized disciplines economic socially ology anthropology psychology and duress. Explain. Grim objection to it is it will become so specialized so scientific that it will lose all relation to literature. It will possess so few of the age Alami attractions that we have connected with the arts of narration of this description and a personal portrait your own characterization that few people will deem worth reading. To which category do the books I have just mentioned. Carl Van Doren and white rocks. Bruce chasms Barbara Tuchman's Peggy Leach us and mineral says Cornelius rhymes belong they belong to duels to the category of history written as literature as or as an attempt at literature or not as a special study in some aspect of organized society.
Shall we cast all eyes aside should we turn into a new path. I think we should not. Many of the topics presented by socially Audigy for example are highly interesting in themselves. A study of the mobility of population of a particular time and place for example a study of mass religion and study of working hours and his her relations Aleister to treat them expertly however requires complicated new principles that are difficult to present to a general reader. And a new vocabulary that can easily degenerate into a weirdly alien lingo.
Library of Congress lectures
Allen Nevins, part one
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National Association of Educational Broadcasters
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, presents American historian Allen Nevins, on the writing of history. Introduction by Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford.
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A series of lectures given at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Speaker: Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971
Speaker: Mumford, Quincy
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-Sp.2-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:20
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures; Allen Nevins, part one,” 1967-03-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
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