That Noble Dream



Peter Novak.

Published by Cambridge

Introduction to That Noble Dream by Peter Novak

Nailing jelly to the Wall

Objectivity is the idea to be explored. Sometimes it furthers history, sometimes it retards it. What is Objectivity/ A commitment to the truth. Includes a commitment to the reality of the past. As perspectives shift with time, there is different significance to the events of the past, but the meaning does not change. Patterns are found, not made.

Historians must have no utilitarian purpose, no loyalties.

But is this possible???

Novak's own methodological commitment is to "overdetermination " of all activity. He says this is why his book is so long !

Plot of Book:

Part 1---- up to 1800s

Part 2 ---- World War 1

Part 3---- World War 2 and Cold War

Part 4 ---- since mid 1960s

Aim To provoke fellow historians to greater self- consciousness about the nature of our work and to offer those outside the historical profession a greater understanding of what we're up to. (p 17)


That Noble Dream

by Peter Novak


Part 1 Objectivity Enthroned.

Chapter 1.

The European Legacy: Ranke, Bacon, Flaubert.

Late C19; (1884)

America exporting goods to Europe but importing ideas. from Europe, especially Germany.

German Historical Scholarship;

Prestigious at this point in time., considered infallible. Used scientific methods. German Universities cheaper than American universities, (also cost of living)

German Universities considered more moral than French Universities. Therefore popular with American Students.

New Universities being founded in America ,old Universities being re-modelled, all based on German model ( tried to incorporate salary structure also, up to this professors not well paid, not highly respected as in G/y )


Was history a science or a discipline? A lot of mis-interpretation of History at this time.


Leopold von Ranke. Regarded as father of modern historical scholarship. A philosophical idealist.; like Hegal, believed the world was divinely ordered. Was revered all over America and after his death his library was purchased and set up in Syracuse University as a shrine. Yet no American student had first hand contact with Ranke as he was already retired before the influx of American students began.

Ranke was an empiricist .i. all knowledge comes through experience. He also believed that intuition was required to assess historical facts.

Some of his remarks were taken out if context; misinterpreted .Even the translations were not completely accurate.

Novak refers to him as an Unphilosophical Empiricist.

Science as applied to History.

The scientific fact was highly respected in America at this time. The trend was to lose the individual and get involved in the organisation. Scientific methods regarded as best for all. Everything became a laboratory, even gymnasiums.

But no one really knew what they were about.

Francis Bacon.

Provided the definitive account of the scientific method throughout the C19 and well into the C20.

Observations are everything.

No Hypotheses. You don't anticipate nature.


Bacon's Theory helped along by Mill (John Stuart )

Mill believed that "facts appropriately arranged would reveal their inner connections". Mill's conceptions were widely accepted in America.

Opposition to Bacon.

Francis Bowen (American) opposed Bacon and wrote

A naked record of facts must ---be untrustworthy: it will not merely be

incomplete but deceptive.(p35)

Louis Agassiz (Swiss American )

Darwin. wrote

How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service (p35)


Flaubert insisted that the flat affect (impassabilite) was the novelist's appropriate stance. He shared Bacon's views about the importance of facts He described the new style as the victory of the anatomist and physiologist in art Flaubert believed science could correct and enrich art.


Believed art was the servant of science.

Struggle against pre-conceived Notions

This was also present among artists, e.g. Constable, Courbet, Monet.

Monet's friend described him as a Lab. technician, breaking light into its. component parts.

Hunger for Facts.

Towards the end of the C19 plain un-adorned facts were THE thing in America. The public got these from the newspapers No adjectives were being used.

Some scholars overdid the "facts" idea e.g. one writer, Prescott gave over one third of his book to footnotes and bibliography.

Moral Posture of Historians.

Writing at this time we have Prescott,Bancroft, Motley and Parkman.,

They did not hesitate to tell "all". They made their political and moral judgements explicit e.g. . Motley on Philip 2

If he possessed a single virtue it has eluded the conscientious search of the writer of these pages

Bancroft, who wrote a History

Every page voted for Andrew Jackson

Ethical Attitude

There was an ethical attitude prevailing in the writings of these historians.

Everything was interpreted by the historian/writer for the reader.

Charles Mc Clean Andrews said that Bancroft's work was" nothing less than a crime against historical truth".



Chapter 2

The Professionalization Project

Slow Growth of Professionalism.

The American Historical Association was founded in 1884. professionalism came slowly. Amateurs "chaired" the AHA till mid-war-time; from 1928 onwards all the presidents of the AHA were, by both training and occupation, professionals. However, many good history books were written by amateurs. A lot of the problem seems to have been that in order to be a historian, one needed to be very secure financially.

The Ph.D. degrees obtained in Germany before World War 1 were awarded following a 2-year-course, (by to-day's standards, in-sufficient )

Contrary to other walks-of-life, historians did not become richer by turning professional.. Before the civil war, the income of a history professor was 9 times that of an un-skilled worker. By the turn-of -the-century the ratio had gone down to 4:1. By the 1950/60s this had decreased further to 2:1 Novak also does a comparison with the medical profession; at turn-of-the-century a History Professor made as much money as a Physician, while a better paid professor made 4/5 times the medical average.

At the turn-of-the-century, young PhDs rose rapidly to full professor-ship.

Features of Professionalism.

Novak lists the putative features of professionalism, esotheric skills, licensed monopoly, increased occupational status, and says that these were never attained by historians, and that others such as autonomy from lay control, did not come for many years.

Process of Professionalism

This took place over time .i. the profession changed with the times.

it took a long time to separate objective truth from charlatanism and quackery

Consensus among the competent. This brings authority. The AHA brought historians together. They could no longer afford to live in isolation.

Standardised Technique The same yardstick used for everything.

Audience redefined Historical work was now directed at colleagues instead of the general public, therefore objectivity was vital.

History Academecized/Professionalized.

This provided

"the underpinning of authority which the norm of objectivity sought " (p53)

Historians were now being "rewarded" for their work. The profession was now responsible for

the award of fellowships ,prizes and honorific offices; the acceptance or rejection of submissions by journals; the evaluation of books in these

journals; and, most crucially ,though as yet, far from autonomously,

employment opportunities ,promotion, and salaries. (p54)

The profession also solved another of its problems and made provision "for those of mediocre talents. "(p54) Seemingly projects were handed out to people to work on, each project became a "brick" in a larger project .i. a lot of bricks were brought together.

However there were never two versions of the same "brick"


The big weakness was that the profession didn't "police" itself. Indeed we all know that this seldom happens even in professions such as medicine and law who are supposed to be extremely vigilant.

Younger historians were afraid to criticise their elders, elders were reluctant to criticise each other.

At the turn of the century ,controversy was considered "unprofessional" . In fact there was a rule in the Massachusetts Historical Society forbidding criticism of living members.

The magazine of the AHA. The American Historical Record, had a policy which was to praise members for whatever work they did, not tear it to bits.

Backward Step

When the AHA went professional it actually took a backward step. In the 1860/70s there had been a critical policy .where criticism was encouraged. In 1877, Henry Adams proposed that Henry Cabot Lodge teach the same course as himself so that their different viewpoints could stimulate inquiry.


Chapter 3

Consensus and Legitimation


Novak explains how he is employing the term "ideology" ---I mean by the word simply an overarching, and at-least-tacitly-coherent outlook on the world. He says ideology can be depicted schematically

1. A picture of the way the world is.

2.A picture of the way the world ought to be.

3 A set of propositions about the relationship between the first and the second.

The third element has several dimensions e.g. distance, speed, smooth evolution, rupture.

Dominant Ideology

In Dominant ideology the "is" and the "ought to be" are nearly the same.

It is rarely seen in its pure form. Those who practise Dominant Ideology are very


Accomodationist Ideology.

Here there is a moderate gap between the "is" and the "ought to be"., but the gap is closing (in the vision of the Accomodationists) Those who practise it are Optimistic. (sometimes immoderately so) Accomodationists are nearly as complacent as the first group.

Oppositional Ideology.

The gap between the "is" and the "ought to be" is seen as great and unlikely to be closed. This ideology is Pessimistic. Those who follow this line of thought see the gap widening due to forces beyond our control.

Radical Oppositionists plump for Fundamental Structural Change because they think that a decent society requires a decent foundation.

Effect of shortage of Oppositionists

Lack of oppositionists among their numbers made American Historians complacent. All their disputes were trivial. Yet there was huge unrest, both social and industrial within the country where they lived. Amid all this turmoil, professional historians were with the most partial and insignificant exceptions, serene and untroubled in their celebration of traditional pieties; an island of orthodoxy in a sea of heterodoxy. Position regarding Autonomy

Not until the 1950s were university appointments made by other academics so at this time there was no autonomy among professional Historians.,

The Universities had been founded by the wealthy, salaries paid from the foundations resources, so University Historians needed to be seen to "side" with the wealthy, not with the working man

There was no academic freedom. Those who campaigned for it were advised to set up their own university where they could have as much freedom as they pleased..

Salaries were sweetened for those who said "the right thing", There was also a strong religious influence.

Contrast between Germany and America.

There was a huge contrast regarding objectivity. The Germans allowed discussion and debate. The Americans wanted to form students minds according to "accepted" views. There was to be no "mental seduction"

People were forced to resign if they openly professed unpopular views.


While there was a price to pay if History professors did not conform, most did not seem to have any wish to be controversial.

In the early C20 all history professors were Protestant; none were recent immigrants; none were working class. Most were Ivy League .i. the new American Aristocracy.

Making-up their Own Rules

Woodrow Wilson was a historian interested in current affairs. In 1892 he warned against the "history of doubt" What was needed in the country was positive thinking..

Professor Lucy Salmon advocates not mentioning the "sins" of great men(p71)

New texts were written for all the schools which were quite biased, designed to keep the good side out.

Breaches between the North and the South were to be healed, "sectional Patriotism" would give way to a broadly national patriotism, a chauvinistic patriotism

that would seek to present distorted ideas of the past with the idea of glorifying one's country at the possible expense of truth (p72)

Above quote taken from report of the Committee of Seven, which was the ruling body of the AHA.


It is generally accepted that early American Historians were biased., and also veered towards being "straight laced"

Conservative Evoluutionist

This is how John Higham is described He considered healing the wounds of the civil war a priority. We now hear the phrase "The United States is" instead of what was formerly used, "the United States are"

Reconciliation between the North and South was top of the agenda.

Localised History was considered petty and sterile.


Darwin was a racist. He considered Blacks to be an inferior race.

Many scholars and Historians also thought this.

Even "enlightened" historical writers thought slavery was a necessary evil.

While there were several southern-born historians in northern universities, there were no northern-born historians in southern universities, so there was no two-way traffic as regards exchange of ideas..

History teachers in the south had great difficulties as even the best American produced texts were not accepted there Southerners thought they had been badly done by and the North was trying to appease. Writings and Articles were edited towards this purpose.

Anglo American Reconciliation.

This was also high on the agenda.

Blacks were not the only "inferior" race. There was a definite pecking order Not all whites were equal!

Teutons/Anglo Saxons were top of the ladder.. Celts (including Irish) Latins(decadent French) Southern Europeans were lower down

Amateur Historian, John Fiske referred to them as "Beaten men from beaten races" (p81)Anglo Saxonism thrived in America during the latter half of the C19.

The Imperial School

A school of thought which became known as The Imperial School .was founded in the 1890s The causes of the revolution were studied, rather than the revolution itself. The tendency was to find fault with Americans because they didn't appreciate what the British had dine for them. Most American Historians at this time were of Anglo British descent.

The atmosphere they tried to create was that of a new, united country, looking towards England as a friendly power

Writings, even from amateurs were all of an Anglo Saxon flavour, and pro slavery.

Secular Faith.

The secular faith of American professional historians protected them from doubts regarding their own objectivity.

Chapter 4

A most Genteel Insurgency


In the years before World War 1 the existing professional historians began to receive challenges.

The chief challengers were Woodrow Wilson and Edward Channing., who both maintained that facts were not enough. You need to colour your picture, otherwise you may give the wrong impression.

These challenges took a long time to mature.

Progressive Historians.

The theme followed up to this was:


Anti change, such as had happened in post revolutionary France

The Teutonic-germ Theory

Teutonic germ Theory

Began in the forests of Germany in the remote past, carried to England in the C5/6; held intact by virtue of the fact that these Teutons exterminated the inferior natives which they found before them in England; .transported to America in the C17.

This theory doesn't hold water Channing noted;

The argument that because a New England town and a German village were each surrounded by a defensive wall, the one is descended from the other, proves too much. A similar line of argument would prove the origin of New England towns to be the Massai enclosure of Central Africa.(p88)

Frontier Thesis

This was advanced by Turner and led to the abandonment of the above. Turner's explanation was that the expanding frontier and the availability of free land was the foundation of American democratic institutions..

By 1908/10 a different type of professor was being appointed to American Universities. (Chicago and Columbia are quoted.)

The "new" scholars wanted to expand history into the social sciences. This was resisted as the "old" scholars associated the proposed change with Philosophy of History which they found repulsive.

Turner tried to "square the circle". Give every theory. a chance, he said, time will sort everything out, survival of the fittest.

Novak says that this was an impossible theory and as proof Turner never produced the work everyone expected of him

The past was based on continuity. A "shake-up" was now needed--new freedom--social justice. What would happen when no more land was available?

Turner's answer was Progressive Reform. He himself was completely satisfied with the American Past.


He wanted the people to adjust to the circumstances, But he never proposed changing the circumstances i.e. Capitalism.


Had joined Ruskin hall (branch of the labour movement in England) He set out to raise money in order to raise the standard of education among all workers to raise the mass instead of encouraging individuals to rise out of the mass.

Beard got himself in the "black books" He was disliked by the established historians.

Secular Progress.

All these four men believed in Secular progress. they had lost faith in the conservative beliefs of their profession and also lost faith in religion

Progressive Historians.

Turner, Robinson, Becker and Beard were termed progressive historians/

Turner thought history should be a basis for legislative reform.

Beard wanted to get possession of the government for the people for the first time ever.

Becker thought that history was a social instrument.

Robinson maintained that study of the past can be of service to the future.

All four wanted to utilise history towards a better future.

Older historians who "loved" the past found it hard to take this idea on board.

Historical Objectivity Challenged by the unorthodox tendencies of the New Historians

Objectivity is not easy to attain; never was.

Some historians thought it could be done by an effort of will..

Some stubbornly and virtuously maintained that they were totally objective.

Others acknowledged that no one could escape their background and experience, but also pointed out that their background was well balanced.

An odd historian admitted that they couldn't avoid external circumstances.

Before World War 1

No historian except Becker got around to admitting that objectivity was impossible. he said it was impossible to distinguish between scientific analysis and interpretative synthesis.

In 1891 Turner wrote;

Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time (p103)

Beard believed in objectivity early in his career but later on he referred to it derisively as the "noble dream" of objectivity,

Robinson swung back and forth. When asked to provide an answer to "What is progress" he could not do so.


Becker was a relativist but before his time He did not need the catalyst of war.

He wasn't listened to till after the war.









Part 2

Objectivity besieged.


Chapter 5


Historians on The Home Front


Established Viewpoints Challenged.

Optimism and faith in progress had grounded historians faith in objectivity Now this is challenged.

The war itself (world war 1) caused historical controversy.

The theories of Becker and Beard -relativist theories- were more widespread than

realised, though still a minority

Impartiality disappears.

Between summer 1914 and spring 1917, American historians were not impartial. Their loyalties to Germany were badly shaken. They began to realise how the German schools had manipulated their students (One historian, Dodd said he was ashamed to have to say that he got his degree from such a source many were like him but some such as Burgess remained loyal to Germany)

The AHA gave presidential addresses 1915/16 bewailing the detrimental effects of exaggerated nationalism. "Woe unto us, professional historians etc" (p116)

Historians about turned, joined the war effort, mostly by writing for the Committee on Public Information, writing propaganda literature for the government as required or using their language skills for the war effort, since most of them would have been too old for active service. Only a rare historian questioned the usefulness of these exercises.


The war experience touched everyone . Among historians there was disillusionment, also disorientation and confusion. They were, on the whole, greatly disillusioned by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, a peace drawn up by Woodrow Wilson, a historian like themselves.

Historians were unsure how to deal with the writings of previous historians, Should they dismiss it as "bunk"? A mirage ? There was a general loss of confidence among professional historians at this time.

Chapter 6

A changed Climate.

Effects of Relativity Theory.

Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" had shaken the foundations of empirical science. Since science had provided the foundations for Historical Objectivity, it too was upset.

If everything was relative, there was no "now" shared by all natural events.

Traditional Historical Objectivity was based on sound common sense but this was now crumbling under their feet.

Ranke's formula "as it really happened" was now mostly abandoned.

The collapse of the older notions of causation caused Beard to have an intellectual crisis which lasted for the remainder of his life.

General Confusion.

Amidst this general confusion, a historian called Carl Russell Fish began to make a questionable distinction between "recovering history --which is a scientific process" and "presentation---which is an artistic process " A number of historians followed him.



New Systems

The prevailing wind from the social sciences was empiricist .but there were two important developments during the interwar years which had affinities with historical relativism

Effect of Cultural Antropology.

Evolution from savagery through barbarism to culture. This in turn led to antropological linguistics.

Effect of Legal Realism.

This development challenged the attributes of the "legal" system which historians believed they had to adopt.

Knowledge of the pre-existing principles of the law, and the facts of the case should in fact make judicial decision perfectly predictable (p148)


judges' social background, prejudice, and psychodynamics gave the process a much less determinate air (p149)

Historians liked to assume a judicial posture, but what reason was there to believe that the same was not true of historians; conclusions.

Holmes(Oliver Wendell) was an advocate of Legal Realism He defended free speech on the grounds that words alone rarely rocked the social fabric. He wrote a book in the 1880s and the movement for Legal Realism was rooted in it.

Arnold (Thomas) also was an advocate of Legal Realism but his angle was different. He thought that historians should come down off their high horses and throw themselves into the struggle for reform

These two opposite strands of historical relativism are personified by Becker and Beard

Pragmatism of Interwar Historical Relativists

Though historians were not pragmatists in the sense that Dewey, James and Pierce were

Pragmatism's crusade against the worship of facts its scepticism against claims of objectivity, its consistent reluctance to accept a hard-and-fast fact-value distinction its emphasis on change and flux, on the human and social elements of knowledge, and the stress on the practical consequences of knowledge--all these were at the centre of the relativist sensibility.,(p153)

Influence of Karl Mannheim.

American Historians had lost interest in European historical study/writing except for Beard who was constantly urging his colleagues to read European work. Mostly there would have been a language difficulty with these. Karl Mannheim's Ideology and Eutopia was the exception His book, published in 1938 brought "sociology of knowledge" to the U.S. His three major points were:

Being aware of the problem is part of its solution.

Multiply your perspectives. The attempted reconciliation of these perspectives can bring you closer to Objectivity.

Take on board the idea of a free floating intellegentia ,not subject to the processes of social influence at work on lesser breeds.

Skepticism regarding Objectivity

This continued. Journalistic Objectivity was being questioned also during the 1930s and a court case was taken by a journalist who was sacked for writing biased, pro-labour stories The journalist won; it was found that the constitution did not guarantee objectivity of the press nor is objectivity obtainable in a subjective world.

The proprietor of Time , Henry Lucy, is quoted as saying

Show me a man who thinks he's objective and I'll show you a man who's deceiving



All areas of scholarship were undergoing change at this time, history was no different. Many more people had access to education, the industrial revolution was over ,and an invasion of the fields of academic culture was taking place

The so-called Historical Relativists saw historical interpretations as being "relative" to the historian's .time , place ,values, and purpose. The term "relativist" was applied to them by their opponents, it was not a self description..

Chapter 7

Professionalism Stalled

Opposite direction.

Novak thinks that instead of becoming more professional American historians moved in the opposite direction

This happened because of:

Poor salaries ( best people not attracted to profession)

No funding for research

Discrimination against Jews

Narrow attitude of regionalised societies such as MVHA (Mississippi valley historical Association) Outsiders were not welcome.

AHA itself being dominated by Eastern Am. Historians..

By the end of the inter-war period. a study was scheduled by the AHA to consider how the regional background of the historian affected methods and techniques of objectivity.

There had been a great expansion of High Schools in America. History texts were of a biased nature; Dewey and Beard campaigned for change; Beard especially pushed for reform, but his reports were ignored. While historians were aware of the narrowness of indoctrination they were in a dilemma as other things were more pertinent to the needs of a bewildered world.

Nevertheless, history was never, in fact, replaced by social studies in the curriculum.


Amateur historians were capturing the market, films were being made with an "historical background" lots of inaccuracies were being put before the public, historians lost heart

Selective Book reviews

Those who were writing refused to accept negative criticism. The AHR had to bring in a rule saying that authors of articles were not allowed to select their own reviewer.


A lot of bickering went on in public, which didn't help the image of professionalism.

Peace times / War Times.

Novak says that while professionalism prospered in times of peace. it became questionable in times of war.


Chapter 8

Divergence and Consent


Revisionism re causes of world war 1 ... Barnes, who was in favour of the Allies, castigates others who could not agree that Germany had a deliberate plot of aggression. Beard backs Barnes Schmitt is the opposition. Controversy rages.

Controversy re Slavery.

This was strong in the 30s. The South was more racist than the North. Anthropology was being used as a sound reason for Negro "inferiority" Leading exponent of this theory was Phillips who became more racist as he grew older and almost recommended slavery. David Muzzey, Becker, Bancroft, Dodd, all opposed Phillips.

Another controversy raged.


This was about Racial Equality, an effort to bring the South into line with the North ,a follow-up to the Civil war. The Beards (husband and wife) involved themselves in this, but their writings defended neither side and could be used by partisans of either side to sustain their cause.

Meaning of The Past

General breakdown in agreement re the meaning of the past. Nobody was acknowledged to have it exactly right, even Beard who only came second-on-the-list in "Books that Changed our Minds"

In a decade marked by the (final?) crisis of capitalism at home, the Five Year Plans and the rise of Nazism abroad ,an increasing number of historians found the traditional ,approved historian's posture of aloof detachment intolerable (p244)

While some historians believed that history should be taught in schools as a sort of patriotic religion, others thought it scandalous to bring up children in a changing world thinking eighteenth-century institutions were eternal .


Many American Historians were isolationists regarding Word war 2, beard being the leader in this camp.


There was also a strong group of Interventionists. Some of Beard's followers went over to this camp.

Missing Objectivity

Novak says

the austere detachment, which was the putative concomitant of objectivity was not likely to be found in times of troubles (p249)

Chapter 9

The battle Joined.


Leading Historians

Beard was the leading historian of the inter-war years with Becker a close second. In their critique of historical objectivity they used strikingly parallel arguments, though they had different approaches.

Beard wrote that

every historian's work-that is, his selection of facts, his emphasis, his omissions ,his organisation and his method of presentation--bears a relation to his own personality and the age and circumstances in which he lives.(p262)

Mandlebaum opposed him,(among others) but was not listened to till after World War 2, when people were trying for an answer to relativism.

Becker wrote about his own views of history

Whatever validity it may claim, it is certain, on its own premises to be supplanted.

Novak comments.

Becker's confidence in the relativity of doctrines was to be confirmed by the next generation's rejection of his doctrine of relativity.(p279)












Part 3

Objectivity reconstructed.

Chapter 10

The defence of the West.

Relativism--A target for attack.

Totalitarianism now considered to be the basic reasoning behind Nazism

and Communism. The relativism of Beard and Becker are supposed to have legitimised Nazi and Soviet historical practise. Novak writes that this claim is outrageous . (p 291)Nevertheless, relativism is now under attack

Words as weapons/ Cold War

An observation was made in 1952 by Lionel Trilling.

"Intellect has associated itself with power as perhaps never before in history" (p301)

Apart from scientists, the academics who mostly did this were the historians Many of them began to work for the OSS (Office of Strategic Sciences). For most of them this was a long involvement, they contributed most to the defence of the American cause in the Cold War. A presidential address to the AHA said

Words are weapons, often the most dangerous type of weapons----In the end we assure ourselves, the truth will prevail .But what about in the meantime?(p318)

Seemingly all sorts of cover-ups went on during this cold war time, including the cover-up about Radio Free Europe which was supposed to be financed by voluntary subscriptions , but was in fact the recipient of massive secret government funding. History and Politics were working hand-in-hand, but this was not a good thing for the integrity of History -as-a-Profession.

Chapter 11

A Convergent Culture

"New" generation of Historians.

These began to come forward after World War 2. The perceived errors of their predecessors were held to be largely the result of misguided presentism and relativism. Novak writes :

With that recurrent conceit that is always guaranteed to produce a wry smile a generation later, postwar historians often assured themselves and others that whereas previous generations of historians had produced work deformed by contemporary preconceptions and preoccupations ,their own historical writing was not disfigured by


Change of Attitude.

Following WW 2 , there was a breakdown in the alliance between the USA and USSR. Communism was now a "no no". All historians who had been attracted now go out of their way to sever connections Even those who still believe in communism lie low.

Un-American Activities Committee.

Becomes very active. There is now great emphasis on the Loyalty Oath, jobs depend on it.


Novak says that if he had to choose one word to characterise postwar American historical writing, counterprogressive would be the word.

Becker and Beard Challenged.

Several books are now being written to challenge Becker and Beard and by the 1960s they were considered to be refuted, and had fallen into disrepute.

New Identification.

Historians now begin to identify themselves with the elite. They infer that urban dwellers and "townies" cannot interpret the history of America, that only rural dwellers can do this, probably because they resented the entry of Jews into the profession, and hoped to freeze them out.

Nevertheless Relativistic Arguments.

The writer who most vehemently opposed Beard, Allan Nevins, nevertheless argued on explicitly relativistic lines

Every era has its own climate of opinion It thinks it knows more than the preceding era---.Every era, too is affected by cataclysmic events which shift its point of view---. We now possess what Beard would have called a new frame of reference (p343)

Intemperate Views.

At this time a lot of books were being with an anti-slavery theme. The Lords of the writers at this time were abolitionists.. Among them there were some very hard-liners Schelesinger was one of these, another historian, John Higham, said that one of Schlesinger's .articles was "an obvious exercise in historical rearmament for world war 3 "

Perceived Moral values.

Elkins wrote

How a person thinks about Negro slavery historically makes a great deal of difference here and now ;it tends to locate him morally in relation to a whole range of very immediate political ,social and philosophical issues


However, historians were growing in self-confidence at this time, and therefore were inclined to be optimistic.



Chapter 12

An Autonomous Profession.

Partial Compliance with professional Criteria.

The professional historians had not met with the criteria laud down by "free professions and scientific disciplines"(p361) except in an incomplete and partial way .up to this

Moral Improves.

By 1965 moral had lifted within the profession. In the 1930s only 150 PhD per year were awarded in history but now in the mid 1960s 1,000 were being awarded each year.. History Departments were expanding within the universities .However there were still little or no women within the profession.

Academic hiring was now meritocratic. Positions within the AHA were now sought after, whereas up to this they had been difficult to fill.

At this time also the profession was no longer aiming to proscribe history programmes for the schools.

Paper-back revolution of the 50s

Once this happened, historians began writing works which could be published in paper-back This proved to be a more rewarding exercise than magazine articles and lecture/talks. Also these works were more serious and directed towards academics.

Bulletin 54

Novak describes Bulleyin54 as the best symbol of transition between "the historiographical sensibility of the 1930s to that of the 1950s" (p387)

First published in 1946 it was inspired by Beard, and produced under the formal direction of Merle Curti. Its various propositions caused a huge amount of debate. A leading writer in this debate was Popper, deter mined anti-relativist, who tried to un-mask the Marxist claim to be presenting the scientific truth about history. Yet he wrote a passage that might have been written by Becker or Beard .

Each generation has its own troubles and problems, and therefore its own interests and its own pint of view.(p395)

Another writer, Danto, wondered if the old "noble dream" was a proper ideal for historians to aim at, at all.

Philosophers who defended objectivity in history often set u restrictive standards for the legitimate scope of history. For example, John Passmore believed that historians had to severely limit their scope if they were to achieve objectivity.

--preposterous titles like The History of England. The fact of the matter is that there is no such subject as The History of England. (p398)

Vann Woodward commented that

Becker and beard could be pictured as the Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon of the American faith .They preached a sort of secular Reformation of relativism, a new Protestantism that gives licence to the layman to consult the sacred text for himself and seek out its meaning without mediation of the priesthood.(p406)

No Consensus.

No consensus was reached on objectivity during the postwar years., though there was a strong tendency towards middle-of-the-road convergence

It could be said to have been an era of "No hard feelings " Social circumstances had shaped historical scholarship in the past..

Historians seemed to have decided to "live with" or tolerate relativism, as if they t could not decide what else to do. Novak comments that this attitude will not suffice for the next period of history.

















Part 4 (Final section)

Objectivity in Crisis.



Chapter 13

The Collapse of Comity.

Attitude of Civility Changes.

Easy-going attitude which or3vailed from 40s to 60s now changes .Professional historians with "impeccable" scholastic credentials were seen to have told a lot of official lies by delegation. History students and younger historians were inclined to expose these lies or else take their leave of the world of professional history altogether.

New Left Historians 1960s

McCarthyism was in decline. There was admiration for the emerging civil rights movement. Students of the 60s full of counter-cultural sensibilities. Universities of Columbia and Wisconsin lead the field (p 420) Without meaning to they raised the subject of objectivity. They wanted balance so they reported the story of both the bosses and the slaves.

Vietnam War.

The Protests and Controversy generated by the Vietnam War produced huge debate. Interest is focused on the demands of the relationship between citizenship and scholarship. The new left breaks into 2 groups; one young, countercultural and activist; the other older, better established and with a communist background. A mega row breaks out between the 2 factions and the whole movement peters out.

Involvement in Political Movements.

Historians now get themselves involved in political movements such as the Black panthers and Richard Nixon's election campaign, (p 437) For the history profession this doesn't work as political neutrality is very important to scholarship. The result is Ideological Polarisation. which lead to Disorientation, and eventually to Fragmentation.

Social History

This was the next phase, history with the politics left out. There was a lack of socialism in the U.S. This movement attracted radicals.

Diplomatic History.

This was the next step and involved a re-conceptualisation of American foreign policy .Had the U.S. come to accept its responsibility as a world power? Was American intervention in both WW2 and Vietnam War a mistake?

There now happened a sort of Academic Watergate (p452)

Vietnam War referred to as an object lesson in historical non-thinking. (p456)


During the 1970s/80s there was fragmentation within the history profession. Historians are now looking for a unifying version of the past, both national and global


Chapter 14

Every group its Own Historian.

Marginalisation of Women and Blacks

Stereotyped ideas were widespread within the profession regarding both women and blacks, both of whom were trying to make their way within it.

Blacks were written-off as "subjective" Whites were supposed to be objective.

Women were categorised as "intuitive" men were supposed to be analytical.

The first prominent Black historian was Franklin, but he was considered by other Blacks as an "Oreo" meaning black on the outside and white at the core. because of Black panther movement, blacks were scornful of whites

There was gender discrimination within the profession, no women professors .By the mid 80s women got into prominence within the AHA

Common Themes.

At this stage a lot of written works were produced with themes common to both women and blacks. Historical neglect of both these sections of the community was deplored. The net result was a rapid growth in Women's History but a slow development of Black history Also a major clash between the community of historians and the feminist community.

Public Historians

Many public historians were employed by the state and objectivity was a sore point among them. The question was asked "Are expert Witnesses Whores?". (p 515)A code of ethics for public historians was drawn up (p514/519)

Nevertheless, objectivity was now problematic.


Chapter 15

The Centre does not Hold.

A Fresh breeze for some, Acid rain for others.---Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn's book. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was the vehicle for what came to be called "Postpositivism" or "Postempiricism"

Fact over Theory

Observations either confirmed or falsified theories Kuhn was first a physicist, then he became a historian. he relied on the collective judgement of the scientific community. .Kuhn's belief was that methods of changing problems had to change with circumstances he saw nothing wrong with rejecting a used-out paradigm (an example showing a certain pattern). But he insisted that he was not a relativist.

Results Fudged

Around this time it came to light that Newton, Mendel, and the American Nobel prize winner, Robert Millikan, had all fudged their results.

Is science an ideology or a form of oppression asks Arnold Thackery, editor of Isis magazine

Goodman's Theory

Goodman now comes up with his belief that many versions of the world can be right at the same time. (p539)

Many Theories

Several other theories are put forward by various people. No one could agree on anything except that there was a crisis in literary studies.


Objectivity now centres on Anthropology. two schools of thought;

Emic from Phonemic; group studies, holistic studies, studies from the natives' point of view

Etic from Phonetic; particular, concrete ,measurable, described by using a metalanguage.

The Etic school-of-thought was dominant.

Geertz and Rorty

Clifford Geertz and also Richard Rorty were the major exponents. Rorty suggested substituting "Solidarity" for "Objectivity"

The point was stressed that every view was not OK Inaccurate and fictitious views have to be rejected. One is then left with a few views which are OK.



Chapter 16

There was no King in Israel.

Objectivist Program of the Founding Fathers

This was being challenged Ideology was in disarray

At the same time there was resistance as many were wilfully oblivious to new developments

---there was a widespread sense that the historical profession was coming apart at the seams (p 573)


In the 70s colleges were overcrowded, PhDs were plentiful ,so many written works were being published that no one could keep track of them much less read them. unless one were a "besotted Faust" (p581) Increased knowledge did not necessarily mean better understanding because it became virtually impossible to make a generalisation which was not falsified in advance by some substantial body of data.

Other peoples' Turf

Historians are now venturing onto what had been other peoples' turf. It is now acceptable to write the history of anything So vocabulary, methods and concepts have to adapt.


The language of historians now becomes complicated on account of wandering into other disciplines. It is difficult to communicate with the laity, also difficult for historians to evaluate each other's work.

Sub Divisions

As the world political is founded on nations, the constituent units of the world of

scholarship are disciplines. (p590)

Sub-divisions of all the disciplines come into being. But history is so fragmented that it is beyond any hope of unification. On the other hand, each section is doing well in its own right, being published in translation etc

Some more Writers

Novak now mentions Hayden White who thought history was nothing but literature and that all depended on what was acceptable as evidence and what was not.;

La Capra who goes for documentary/objectivist model of knowledge

--the task of the historian is to use sources as documents to reconstruct past reality as accurately as he or she can (p604)

Peter Gay who went back to Ranke's theory .i. the historian doesn't make history, he finds it.

David Abraham .

Novak goes into great detail about a mighty argument which took place David Abraham via Felding and Turner. Abraham wrote a book about Nazism and Hitler; he made some mistakes in his research which he later acknowledged ,but Feldman stubbornly kept on blocking him from getting jobs. Nor would the AHA accept that others besides Abraham had made mistakes. Turner and Felding won, which was" a striking demonstration of the continued power of the empiricist-objectivist alliance" says Novak.


During the late 70s' early 80s an attempt was made to get back to narrative


An attempt was made to mediate the crisis within the profession, notably by Hollinger and Haskell who tried to stake out a middle-of-the road grounding for the historical venture. but in the 1980s, no one was listening..Novak uses a quote from the bible to describe the history profession

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes

He refers to his own aim when writing his book which was

--to provoke my fellow historians to greater self-consciousness about the nature of our activity ,to stimulate alternative ways of thinking about works of history and the claims made on their behalf.

He doesn't know whether he has succeeded or not But he quotes Jean Paul Sartre who says that the spectator is the real sculpture....