The Dunning School
Historians, Race, and the Meaning of Reconstruction
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
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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 Schoolâthe first generation of university-trained historians to study the Reconstruction eraâis extremely welcome. These essays offer fascinating insights into not only their scholarly writings but also their intellectual for-...
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In 1916 the historian Arthur C. Cole of the University of Illinois noted the emergence of what he termed the new âsouthern school of historians.â The pupils, largely âhistorical students of southern birth and breedingâ and ârepresentatives of the new south,â had âmigrated northward to the class room of a northern guide and philosopher to receive words of wisdom and ...
1. John W. Burgess, Godfather of the Dunning School
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One cannot fully understand the Dunning School without a working knowledge of John W. Burgessâs 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 âscientificâ scholarship that was in line with the highest international standards, and ...
2. William Archibald Dunning
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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 two fields, when both were in their nascent stages in the late nineteenth ...
3. James Wilford Garner and the Dream of a Two-Party South
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James W. Garner has long been characterized as the most balanced and least strident of William A. Dunningâs students. Although in its general outlines Garnerâs view of Reconstruction differed little from most of his Dunnin-gite peersâ, his tone, approach, and in some cases findings were strikingly discordant. In private Garner even went so far as to praise James L. Alcorn, ...
4. Ulrich B. Phillips
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The Georgia native Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877â1934), 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, Dunning, and others of their era, the historian Steven Hahn notes that ...
5. The Steel Frame of Walter Lynwood Fleming
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It was a professional experience with which present-day authors might feel an uneasy sympathy. Walter Fleming, at age thirty-one, had just published his first and most significant work, Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama (1905). The liberal journal of opinion the Nation found the book worthy of an extended review, which would have seemed promising news save that the ...
6. Ransack Roulhac and Racism
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Joseph GrÃ©goire de Roulhac Hamilton (1878â1961). 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 preten-tious names of pretentious people. He liked to be called Roulhac, and the sycophantic intoned the maternal name with awe, the many critics with ...
7. Paul Leland Haworth
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Scholars have rarely mentioned Indiana-born Paul Leland Haworth in con-nection with the group of historians referred to as the Dunning School even though Haworth completed his dissertation under Columbia Univer-sity professor William Archibald Dunningâs direction in 1906. Scholarsâ omission of Haworth from their assessments of Dunning and his students ...
8. Charles W. Ramsdell
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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 be-fore him in Nashville represented the history academyâs dedication to strict professionalism in general and the specific application of its principles to ...
9. The Not-So-Strange Career of William Watson Davis's The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida
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William Watson Davisâs doctoral dissertation, published as The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, appeared in 1913 on the eve of the semi-centennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians immediately showered it with acclaim. William E. Dodd characterized the study as âa doctoral dissertation of rather extraordinary character.â Dodd continued: âIt needs ...
10. C. Mildred Thompson
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On February 16, 1975, the last surviving student of Professor William A. Dunningâs 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 her only book, Reconstruction in Georgia: Economic, Social, Political, 1865â...
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The editors acknowledge with gratitude the encouragement that they re-ceived in conceptualizing and executing this book from Anne Dean Wat-kins, their editor at the University Press of Kentucky; the pressâs director, Stephen M. Wrinn; and Bailey Johnson, acquisitions assistant. Ann Twom-bly copyedited the manuscript superbly. We also thank the two anonymous ...
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Page Count: 338
Publication Year: 2013