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The Dunning School

Historians, Race, and the Meaning of Reconstruction

edited by John David Smith and J. Vincent Lowery. foreword by Eric Foner

Publication Year: 2013

From the late nineteenth century until World War I, a group of Columbia University students gathered under the mentorship of the renowned historian William Archibald Dunning (1857--1922). Known as the Dunning School, these students wrote the first generation of state studies on the Reconstruction -- volumes that generally sympathized with white southerners, interpreted radical Reconstruction as a mean-spirited usurpation of federal power, and cast the Republican Party as a coalition of carpetbaggers, freedmen, scalawags, and former Unionists.

Edited by the award-winning historian John David Smith and J. Vincent Lowery, The Dunning School focuses on this controversial group of historians and its scholarly output. Despite their methodological limitations and racial bias, the Dunning historians' writings prefigured the sources and questions that later historians of the Reconstruction would utilize and address. Many of their pioneering dissertations remain important to ongoing debates on the broad meaning of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the evolution of American historical scholarship.

This groundbreaking collection of original essays offers a fair and critical assessment of the Dunning School that focuses on the group's purpose, the strengths and weaknesses of its constituents, and its legacy. Squaring the past with the present, this important book also explores the evolution of historical interpretations over time and illuminates the ways in which contemporary political, racial, and social questions shape historical analyses.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xii

...It is a peculiarity of the historical profession that it displays remarkably little interest in its own history. For this reason alone, a volume on the Dunning School—the first generation of university-trained historians to study the Reconstruction era—is extremely welcome. These essays offer fascinating...

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pp. 1-48

...In 1916 the historian Arthur C. Cole of the University of Illinois noted the emergence of what he termed the new “southern school of historians.” The pupils, largely “historical students of southern birth and breeding” and “representatives of the new south,” had “migrated northward to the class...

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1. John W. Burgess, Godfather of the Dunning School

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pp. 49-76

...One cannot fully understand the Dunning School without a working knowledge of John W. Burgess’s life, career, and publications. Part of an earlier generation, he taught William A. Dunning and helped build the foundations on which the school stood. Burgess published “scientific...

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2. William Archibald Dunning: Flawed Colossus of American Letters

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pp. 77-106

...The influence of the American historian William Archibald Dunning hovers over the study of United States history and political science like a ghostly apparition, one that modern scholars have found impossible to avoid. Dunning arguably contributed more than any other scholar to those...

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3. James Wilford Garner and the Dream of a Two-Party South

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pp. 107-133

...James W. Garner has long been characterized as the most balanced and least strident of William A. Dunning’s students. Although in its general outlines Garner’s view of Reconstruction differed little from most of his Dunningite peers’, his tone, approach, and in some cases findings were strikingly...

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4. Ulrich B. Phillips: Dunningite or Phillipsian Sui Generis?

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pp. 133-156

...The Georgia native Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877–1934), along with his Columbia University mentor, William A. Dunning, set the standard for early twentieth-century scholarship on plantation slavery and the Civil War and Reconstruction, respectively. Contextualizing the work of Phillips...

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5. The Steel Frame of Walter Lynwood Fleming

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pp. 157-178

...and regional defensiveness provided “the steel frame” of Fleming’s analysis. The editor termed the approach incredible because it assumed that only conservative white Southerners could understand black people, slave or free. Villard conceded Fleming’s industriousness, but in barbed fashion: “No...

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6. Ransack Roulhac and Racism: Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton and Dunning’s Questions of Institution Building and Jim Crow

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pp. 179-202

...Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton (1878–1961). Saying the name slowly produces a humor not inappropriate, almost like the old W. C. Fields routine in which the comedian with orotund vowels recited pretentious names of pretentious people. He liked to be called Roulhac, and the...

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7. Paul Leland Haworth: The “Black Republican” in the Old Chief’s Court

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pp. 203-228

...Scholars have rarely mentioned Indiana-born Paul Leland Haworth in connection with the group of historians referred to as the Dunning School even though Haworth completed his dissertation under Columbia University professor William Archibald Dunning’s direction in 1906. Scholars’...

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8. Charles W. Ramsdell: Reconstruction and the Affirmation of a Closed Society

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pp. 229-254

...University of Texas Professor Charles W. Ramsdell stood to deliver his presidential address before the third annual convention of the Southern Historical Association on November 20, 1936. The scholars assembled before him in Nashville represented the history academy’s dedication to strict...

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9. The Not-So-Strange Career of William Watson Davis's The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida

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pp. 255-280

...semicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians immediately showered it with acclaim. William E. Dodd characterized the study as “a doctoral dissertation of rather extraordinary character.” Dodd continued: “It needs hardly to be said that the study is properly documented at every point and...

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10. C. Mildred Thompson: A Liberal among the Dunningites

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pp. 281-308

...On February 16, 1975, the last surviving student of Professor William A. Dunning’s fabled Reconstruction seminar died, only six years short of her hundredth birthday. C. Mildred Thompson left the world where she had entered it: Atlanta, Georgia, whose history was entwined with the subject of...

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pp. 309-310

...The editors acknowledge with gratitude the encouragement that they received in conceptualizing and executing this book from Anne Dean Watkins, their editor at the University Press of Kentucky; the press’s director, Stephen M. Wrinn; and Bailey Johnson, acquisitions assistant. Ann Twombly...


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pp. 311-314


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pp. 315-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780813142739
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813142258

Page Count: 338
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 860711840
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Dunning School

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Subject Headings

  • Dunning, William Archibald, 1857-1922.
  • United States -- Race relations -- Historiography.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Historiography.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- Historiography.
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