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Immersed in Great Affairs

Allan Nevins and the Heroic Age of American History

Gerald L. Fetner

Publication Year: 2004

Immersed in Great Affairs is the first book-length biography of noted historian and journalist Allan Nevins. In a career that spanned nearly three-quarters of the twentieth century, Nevins won two Pulitzer Prizes, helped draft John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention, composed the monumental eight-volume history of the American Civil War, Ordeal of the Union, and associated with, among others, Adlai Stevenson, Walter Lippmann, Arthur Schlesinger Sr., Charles Scribner, Abraham Flexner, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. This book traces his beginnings as a journalist in the early 1900s with the New York Evening Post and the New York World through his years as a contributor to the New York Times Magazine. Nevins not only influenced thoughtful, general readers through his articles, editorials, and reviews, but also made a lasting impression on the writing of American history and nurtured a whole generation of young scholars as DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. A narrative historian in an age of growing reliance on social science concepts and theories, Nevins remained committed to telling a story and to using history to teach moral lessons.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

My interest in Allan Nevins as a subject of a biography began in a rather ordinary way. As a graduate student, I had read his study American States During and After the Revolution (1924) and found for the first time an explanation of what was taking place in the of American independence. Before the Revolution, American history ...

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pp. xi-xii

I am indebted to the staff of the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library who, over the many years of my research in the Nevins papers, extended every courtesy and assistance one could ask for. I wish to single out Bernard Crystal, Jane Siegel, Rudolph Ellenbogen, and Patrick Lawlor, as well as that library’s directors, ...

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Introduction: Color and Light

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pp. 1-9

In June 1960, Theodore Sorenson, advisor to then senator John F. Kennedy, asked the historian Allan Nevins to help in drafting the speech Kennedy would deliver in accepting the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party at its upcoming national convention in Los Angeles. Sorenson suggested it would likely be the “most important” ...

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Chapter 1. Progressive-era Values and Influences: (1890–1917)

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pp. 9-24

Born at the end of the nineteenth century, Allan Nevins came to maturity during a period of transition in American history, a time when rugged individualism and the concept of laissez-faire were giving way to a new ideology based on cooperation and social concern.These values found expression in reform legislation and administrations, ...

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Chapter 2. Journalism in Its “Higher Walks”: (1913–31)

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pp. 25-44

Nevins joined the editorial board of the New York Evening Postat the height of the Progressive reform movement. His career on the paper coincided with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who had taken office just a few months earlier. The Evening Post had supported Wilson during the 1912 presidential campaign, largely out of ...

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Chapter 3. Crossroads of American History: (1913–27)

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pp. 45-66

Nevins’s development as a historian in the teens and twenties took place against the background of fundamental shifts in the writing of American history that amounted to a crossroads separating nineteenth-century romantic and literary narratives from twentieth-century analytic and scientific investigations. University ...

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Chapter 4. Biography in the “Victorian Manner”: (1927–45)

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pp. 67-88

During the 1920s, bookstore shelves began to be filled by an arsenal of biographies, some scholarly, some popular, some debunking, some of prominent historical figures, and some of lesser-known subjects.1 Attempting to explain this literary phenomenon, the historian Bernard DeVoto suggested that people read biography to learn about ...

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Chapter 5. The Temper of Modern Times: (1929–39)

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pp. 89-112

Nevins took advantage of the connections he had made with journalists, academics, and publishers to find outlets for commenting on the changes taking place in the nation’s economic policy, foreign affairs, and business and industrial relations. He viewed the economic collapse of the 1930s as providing an opportunity for ...

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Chapter 6. Capitalism, Power, and the Historian: (1934–40)

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pp. 113-130

In emphasizing the connection between economic strength and military security, Nevins sought to challenge public skepticism about the ability of American business to manage the nation’s productive and distributive resources without substantial government intervention. Nevins took the position that Americans needed to discard ...

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Chapter 7. America, “Projected into World Leadership”: (1940–68)

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pp. 131-154

By the 1940s, Nevins had produced a substantial body of materials in the form of books, articles, and lectures aimed at helping Americans place in perspective the way the world had changed since1900. He had addressed the methods by which the New Deal redefined the federal government’s relationship to business and labor. He ...

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Chapter 8. History, “Broader, Deeper and More Mature”: (1946–71)

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pp. 155-176

Raising the level of “public thought” occupied a large part of Nevins’s academic interests after the Second World War. Accomplishing this objective meant strengthening knowledge of and interest in American history, so that students and thoughtful general readers could appreciate, Nevins wrote, the “multiplicity of new ...

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Afterword: A “Public Enthusiasm for History”

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pp. 177-178

Having brought so much energy and idealism to his work, it is interesting to speculate on how Nevins might have reacted to the changes that occurred in the country and in the writing of history following his death in 1971. Alfred A. Knopf believed Nevins would have not liked the world that had come about, and, as he wrote to ...


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pp. 179-215


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pp. 215-234


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pp. 235-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485668
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459737
Print-ISBN-10: 079145973X

Page Count: 243
Illustrations: 1 b/w photograph
Publication Year: 2004

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Subject Headings

  • Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971.
  • Historians -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- Historiography.
  • Journalists -- United States -- Biography
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