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American Literature in American History MICHAEL MILLGATE Bert James Loewenberg, American History in American Thought: Christopher Columbus to Henry Adams. Simon and Schuster, 1972. $14.95. 731 pp. F. Garvin Davenport, Jr., The Myth of Southern History: Historical Consciousness in TwentiethCentury Southern Literature. Vanderbilt University Press, 1970. $7.95. ix+ 212 pp. American History in American Thought is the immensely learned first volume in a promised - and surely prodigious - four-volume survey of American historiography. Its declared purpose is "to trace the development of historical scholarship in the United States from the European sources of its origin until yesterday." In practice, as the sub-title indicates, "yesterdayn means the end of the nineteenth century; twentieth-century, including contemporary, developments in history will be covered, together with much else, in subsequent volumes. At one level the book is a straightforward contribution to historiography, a kind of bibliography of significant historical writing annotated with great richness and discrimination and handled discursively in twenty-six extended chapters, beginning with "The New World Before Columbus" and ending on a high note with a deeply appreciative discussion of Henry Adams - whose History of the United States of America is acclaimed as uunrivaled, the best single piece of literary craftsmanship in American historiography." But Professor Loewenberg is also deliberately, and successfully, seeking to make a contribution to the history of ideas, exploring in particular the cultural significance of scholarship, the transatlantic (and especially German) sources of much scholarly and pedagogical methodology, and the transmission of both methodology and inspiration through the medium of particular individuals and institutions. This is a book designed to be useful and accessible to the student and the general reader as well as to the specialist, and the treatment of the relatively unfamiliar pre-colonial and early colonial periods is therefore supplemented by succinct and often lively summaries of the historical events themselves. In subsequent chapters, however, the increasingly exclusive focus on the scholars and their scholarship is actually accompanied by a heightening rather than a diminution of narrative and intellectual excitement. One senses a deepening engagement on the author's part as the discussion moves into the second half of the nineteenth century, with THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. IV, NO, 1, SPRING 1973 its conflict between romantic and scientific conceptions of history, and especially as individual historians and teachers of history come to be considered in terms both of what they wrote and of the influence they exerted upon successive generations of students. Indeed, the analysis of the development of specific graduate schools of history - chiefly Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Harvard, and Wisconsin - is at once one of the most original and most exciting of the book's contributions. One is immediately struck by the possibility of conducting this kind of examination in other fields of scholarship - literature., for example., or sociology - and part of the importance of American History in American Thought lies precisely in the degree to which its information and its insights can be carried over into other aspects of American studies. Students of American nationalism, both literary and political, may for example find it useful to be reminded of the declaration of American literary independence which Noah Webster, the lexicographer, made as early as 1783, while anyone engaged in any form of research into the past can find both encouragement and warning in Professor Loewenberg' s insistence, in his Introduction., that "Historical research and historical writing parallel the historical process. Historians must know what others have said about their subject, for it is disenchantment with older research that sparks a student to search again .... To ignore one's intellectual forebears is a minor sin in the decalogue of historians. To retrace the steps of one's progenitors and to be judged as not having done it better is a professional calamity. The first transgression violates the historians' respect for the past. The second frustrates the aspiration for recurring critical judgment." The strong acknowledgment of the literary qualities of such historians as Francis Parkman and Henry Adams is another way in which the book continually prompts reflections upon inter-connections with other disciplines - in this instance, upon the relationship between those works of the historical imagination...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 113-116
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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