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TheBelatedRenaissanceof University Historyin theUnitedStates Ste\enJ. Diner.A City and Its Universities: PublicPolicy in Chicago, 1892-1919. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. 263+ xiipp. RonaldStory. The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harm1dand the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870. Middletown,Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1980. 256+ xvi pp. William Bruneau Thisessay sports a particularly ironic- and thus irresistible-title. It speaks ofa re-emergent, expanding and potentially revolutionary field of historical studies: the investigation of universities in their broad historical contexts. 1 Yetthis renaissance, coming after a half-century's neglect, coincides both in the New and in the Old Worlds with a crisis of contraction in the "official:· university-based profession of history. In Europe and North America, the history of universities will nonetheless surviveand grow, however slowly.At first, in the 1960sand 1970s,it appeared likelyto persist just because it rode on the coat-tails of yet another, larger historiographic event. That event was the rise to dominance of the ''new" social history: quantitative, sensitive to class and other social relations, interpretive rather than narrative in its argument forms. The new history brought with it the re-invention of the history of education as a viable and valuable field of historical inquiry. 2 Naturally enough, universities attracted some of this inquiry, although less than one might expect. 3 Now that enrolments and history departments and whole colleges are disappearing, will the infant rinascimento wither away? It will not, and the two books at hand are the proof. Both of these are good books that suffer onlyfrom some persistent eccentricities. I have taken it to be myjob both to catalog the eccentricities and to show why these books are nevertheless worth reading. Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15,Number 1, Spring 1984,73-83 74 Willian Bruneau To do this, I have had (section 1)to describe "mainline" work in the history of universities-how else to measure eccentricity? Sections 2 and 3 deal with the Diner and Storybooks respectively, with source cross-referencing. Section4 shows how these two books fit with the "mainstream" of studies in university history, and how they suggest new paths for work in this area of interest. 1. The Mainstreams of University History Most so-called "histories" of universities are not, and rarely have been, history at all. They are celebrations of the present carr'ied willy-nilly into the past. They are presentist in outlook, Whig in outcome. 4 They are chronologies relieved now and then by extended "stories": a founder's triumph, or a building constructed through miraculous fund-drives; growth and more growth; the old ideals restated, and so on-and on. These books are the products of worries about public relations. They are high-class journalism. A few nonetheless manage to be useful when more careful historians take on the self-same subjects. 5 This must sound terribly smug. Since when do historians have a monopoly on truth and intellectual importance? Are Ted White's and Will Shiner's journalistic-historical books wrong and useless? 6 Obviously not: the point, though, is that this essential aim is description of events and actions, but not explanation. A further point: even the great have fallen. Mordecai Feingold, in a recent essay on some Oxford and Cambridge college histories, carefully deflates some sizeable academic balloons. It seems that even reputable Oxbridge men are reduced to prattle when they contemplate their own universities' history.7 The mainstreams of university history studies, then, do not include the journalistic and antiquarian genres. Substantial university history falls instead into four main categories: (i) the rise and fall in universities of subjects of study; of whole disciplines; and of styles of intellectual life; (ii) the detailed ethnography of institutional life in universities; (iii) the economics of universities; the university's economic utility and impact; (iv) the social function of universities (the discovery of recognizable social groups/classes who have "used" universities, generally to secure their own socio-economic status and that of their children). At present, the clearest illustrations of English language work in these four genres can be drawn from the German and English cases. (The Englishlanguage limitation means relatively little, since Europeans and North...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 73-83
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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