Historical Scholarship in America: Needs and Opportunities (1932)
A Report by the Committee of the American Historical Association on the Planning of Research
Findings of the Committee
I. Present Trends and Neglected Areas in Research
Historical scholarship has always received stimulus and inspiration from the new ideas and points of view emerging in related fields, especially in the other social sciences. This is inevitable and is apt to become increasingly common, for the historian cannot avoid being influenced by the thinking and problems of his own time. We welcome the interchange of ideas and results with workers in other disciplines, though we recognize the danger of uncritical acceptance of modern concepts and terminology in the ancient and mediaeval fields.
The need for enlarging the scope of historical work is felt least in the ancient field, where long practice has led to the elaboration of methods of investigation, the organization of materials and the establishment of interrelations, and where the classical tradition has demanded that civilization be studied in all its aspects. In the modern European and American fields it is highly desirable that everything possible should be done to facilitate contact with workers in related subjects and to develop the exchange of ideas, insights and conclusions. The information thus made available must, of course, be used with discretion. In any case, much will always depend upon the individual investigator as to the use made of findings in other fields.
We recommend, as one means of acquainting the general body of historians with the achievements and inquiries going forward in such fields as anthropology, psychology, economics, political science, sociology, science, literature and the fine arts, that sessions be regularly provided at the annual meetings of the American Historical Association devoted to a consideration of the contributions which related subjects can make to the solution of historical problems, possibly involving invitations to representatives from such other fields to attend and present suggestions. We recommend further that there be closer association within the various university and college faculties between historians and their colleagues in allied fields.
In reply to the question: "To what extent do the annual lists of dissertation subjects reveal newer trends?" the scholars in the ancient and mediaeval fields returned no specific answer, but it is clear they feel that the various phases of their subject are being given adequate attention. The historians in the modern European field pointed out that the annual lists of doctoral dissertations have shown, in the last decade, a decided emphasis upon the study of recent diplomacy and international relations. There has been some indication of interest in intellectual history, but very little has been done with other phases, notably with social history. The conference felt, however, that the great stress upon diplomatic history was the natural outcome of the World War, that it need cause no uneasiness, and that students would in due course revert to other fields of investigation. The American history conferences took somewhat divergent standpoints. The Middle-Western group, while recognizing that recent lists of doctoral dissertations show considerable work in progress along familiar lines and even some threshing over of old straw, felt that "the newer interests of American history are surprisingly well represented." On the other hand, the Eastern group, after a statistical study, expressed the opinion that these lists reveal "a deplorable tendency to focus upon historical problems so much worked over as to have reached the point of diminishing returns."
In any case, all three groups working in the modern fields realized that there was much room for improvement and that there were many neglected areas, some of great importance, which required exploitation alike by doctoral candidates and by mature scholars. The three conferences submitted lists of such areas and problems, to which the attention of individual scholars is urgently called. In general, these lists indicate the need for exploring more thoroughly certain geographic areas in Europe, notably in eastern and southeastern Europe; they stress the need for more study of local history, in Europe as well as in America; and they point out, one and all, the relative neglect of social and intellectual history in almost all their phases. Special aspects of historical work which they would like to see developed are racial movements and their effects, the history of morals, commerce, industry, transportation, law and administration, the evolution of state policy in economic matters, and the history of propaganda, journalism, education and religious institutions. No effort can be made here to exhaust the large variety of subjects to which the conferences call attention, but enough has been said to show that vast areas of historical investigation have, up till now, been allowed to lie fallow.
The question of the limitations placed upon research by the nature of the source material available in this country naturally touches only those engaged in fields other than the American. Scholars in ancient, mediaeval and modern history alike feel the handicap of lack of material, especially of a manuscript nature. In the ancient field, however, the comparative completeness of the publication of the primary sources and their general availability in the larger libraries greatly reduce the effect of this limitation so far as the type of research is concerned. Even among the mediaevalists there is a feeling that the limitation in question does not force mediaeval studies to follow any particular channels. The difficulty presents itself in aggravated form only in the case of the modern European, Latin-American and Oriental fields. Here the lack of source material in printed form goes far to explain the neglect of social history and other subjects of a nonpolitical type. The modern European conference was of the opinion that students in that field must of necessity spend some time in European archives and libraries in order to make valuable contributions. At the same time it pointed out that, even in modern European history, "there is much material readily accessible in America that has not been taken advantage of, and that studies in intellectual history, for example, could be easily expanded."
In the matter of publishing periodically lists of investigations in progress the several conferences were not in agreement. The ancient and mediaeval scholars declared that such lists already exist or are not needed. The other groups felt that the professional journals might well devote space to the listing of projects well under way in their fields. We recommend that the American Historical Association undertake the publication (perhaps triennially) of a list of research and editorial projects being actively carried forward in the United States and Canada by mature scholars in the modern fields. Such a list, by being given wide dissemination among interested scholars, would serve not only to prevent duplication and to further coöperation, but also to suggest to the profession, indirectly, the fields of historical study which are being neglected.
II. Enlargement, Improvement and Preservation of Materials
Problems connected with the collection and preservation of historical sources are necessarily different in the different fields. There is, in this country, a considerable amount of material of this nature bearing on the ancient and mediaeval fields. The museums contain much in the way of archaeological remains, etc., and during the last generation collections of papyri have been built up in American libraries. In the mediaeval field, however, a distinct need exists for reproductions of documentary and other materials for research. It is suggested by the mediaeval conference that a fund be created from which grants can be made to scholars to enable them to procure reproductions of sources which they require. These reproductions should be left in the hands of the grantee as long as he needs them, and then be turned over to the Library of Congress as the ultimate repository. The Library might well issue a bulletin listing such reproductions as may be found in American libraries in the field of mediaeval history. We recommend this matter to the consideration of the American Historical Association.
That museums can do much to collaborate with the historian is quite obvious. In the ancient field historians take a fruitful interest in this type of activity and conditions are fundamentally sound. For the mediaeval and modern fields much gratifying work has also been accomplished. Special exhibits, as, for example, the reproduction of early modern rooms, are stimulating aids, particularly for the student of social history. Further developments along this line are distinctly worth while and should be encouraged.
Among historians in the European fields opinion is divided as to the desirability of encouraging specialization in library development. The ancient history conference prefers to have all large libraries continue to aim at the acquisition of well-rounded collections, and the modern history group thinks that, however desirable in theory, specialization is not apt to be successful in practice. The large libraries show a natural and perhaps commendable desire to keep up as well as may be in as many fields as possible. At the same time much could be done in the way of establishing union catalogues. A useful beginning might be made in central areas such as Boston-Cambridge, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Perhaps more important yet is the desirability of having individual libraries and collections keep their materials catalogued. The Huntington Library is one of the greatest repositories in the world for manuscript material of modern English history. The issuance of a complete catalogue of this notable collection is greatly to be desired. In other libraries there are special collections of manuscripts or printed works dealing with particular phases of European history. These collections are not always well known, and it is highly important that they be listed, with descriptive notes and information as to whether they may be used by scholars. On the other hand, the mediaeval conference strongly favors specialization on the part of the larger libraries, and also urges that a general survey be made, perhaps by the Social Science Research Council or the American Council of Learned Societies, of the existing resources of libraries in mediaeval materials. In view of the discussions in all the European history conferences, we recommend that the matter of finding lists of European materials in American libraries be referred by the Council of the American Historical Association for study by the joint Committee on Materials for Research. Such a project, if reported upon favorably by the joint Committee, merits cordial support on the part of historical agencies.
There is already considerable activity in the publication of source materials in European history. Papyrology is progressing in this country as well as it can with a limited number of trained experts. The ancient history group recognizes the ultimate necessity of publishing a corpus of papyri, but believes it advisable to postpone action until the sources of papyri show signs of drying up. The urgent present need is the publication of papyri now on hand. Scholars both here and abroad are coöperating in this respect, but the means at their disposal are very limited. In the mediaeval field a number of societies, like the Selden Society and the Pipe Roll Society, are engaged in the publication of manuscript material. This work can in most cases be best done through financial and scientific coöperation with such organizations. The mediaeval group names various types of sources that should be published. Their list and other desiderata should be made the subject of consideration and recommendation by the American Historical Association.
In this field the collection and preservation of source material is, of necessity, a much larger and more urgent problem, for which American historical scholarship must assume the leading responsibility. To exploit properly the new fields of research it is necessary to reconsider the present programs of preserving material, to discover and organize a much more varied mass of sources, and to develop a new and improved technique of handling them. Governmental archives, newspapers and the correspondence of important public figures are likely to be collected in any case, but a great variety of business and social data, especially the papers and records of obscure persons and organizations, are frequently neglected or lost for want of any interested assembling agency. The amassing of data for social, economic and intellectual history, therefore, should be systematized and coördinated, and institutional coöperation upon a regional basis should be encouraged. There is a deplorable lack of guides and check lists of manuscript material already collected, and a great need for bibliographies and guides to local material. We recommend that the American Historical Association assume responsibility for leadership and advice in these matters.
There is a lively and growing interest in museum development. It is obvious that no great advance in the collection of such sources can be made without proper museums scientifically managed. Museums have a distinct value in stimulating the discovery and preservation of historical records and in supplying laboratory material, especially for the student of American social and technological history. The Deutsches Museum at Munich, the Rosenwald Museum in Chicago, the Franklin Institute at Philadelphia, the Norwegian-American Museum at Decorah, Iowa, to say nothing of art and historical museums, have shown what can be done. Unfortunately much museum work is vitiated because those who have it in charge are not properly trained to render this service. We recommend that the Association study the possibility of securing facilities for the better training of museum directors and for the creation of a more adequate museum science. There is, in particular, need for university instruction for curators who will organize collections illustrating the historical evolution of American culture. A finding list of materials now housed in museums is also much needed. We recommend that the American Historical Association study ways and means by which its preparation and publication might be accomplished.
Archives as well as museums need skilled workers. The projected national archives building offers an excellent opportunity for preliminary planning in order that the best possible organization and direction can be provided therein. We recommend that the matter of the scientific training of archivists be brought to the attention of leading universities as a possible new subject in their curricula.
The collection of motion-picture films is also heartily indorsed. Many of these films are of great historical value, and deserve the active attention of historians and librarians. The methods of collecting them, as worked out by the Dutch government and initiated by other governments, might well be followed. The formation of archives of films might appeal to wealthy individuals in a country like ours which has assumed leadership in the motion-picture industry. It is recommended that the Council appoint a committee to ascertain what can be done to promote this interest. Attention is called, further, to the new photographic devices which make possible the building up, at strategic centers, of large collections of duplicate facsimiles of invaluable manuscript sources.
The value of a national plan for library development, with a view to building up great collections of research material along special lines at certain natural centers, is generally recognized. Such a scheme is now being studied by the Joint Committee on Materials for Research, created by the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, and the endeavor deserves the support of the American Historical Association. It is suggested that regional conferences be held on the subject, to be composed of representatives of local historical organizations and other interested agencies.
In the field of the publication of source material in American history there is need for greater systematization and coördination. The Alvord Memorial Commission is a step in that direction in a particular region. Similar organizations ought to be established for other groups of states. There is also an excellent opportunity for collaboration in the Canadian-American field. Such subjects as the fur trade, transportation and the westward movement of the wheat belt illustrate a merging of historical interests that might profitably be developed coöperatively. Furthermore, the publication of source material has scarcely been attempted in certain states, and throughout the country the standards of editing are lamentably uneven.
A number of publication projects deserve careful attention. The complete works of certain American presidents should be collected and published, and the same is true of other eminent political figures. In certain cases calendars might suffice, but at all events efforts should be made to assemble scattered letters and papers without waiting for biographies to be projected. Indeed, planned collection of contemporary materials, even when necessarily under the seal of confidence, is desirable.
The compilation of calendars and archival guides is more useful to scholars than the actual publication of sources when selection with resulting elimination becomes necessary. Some needs in the American field are as follows: guides to American historical materials in the archives of the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and South America; projects proposed by the State Department or authorized by the government, such as the instructions to diplomatic agents abroad (pressure should be exerted by the Association to prevent this last-named project from lapsing); the continuance of Adelaide R. Hasse's Index to United States Documents Relating to Foreign Affairs, and the completion and expansion of the same author's Index to Economic Material in Documents of the States; and the preparation of a descriptive historical guide to selected American newspapers. There is now before the American Library Association a project for a union list of principal newspaper files. This project we indorse. Finally we feel that the time has come for the Association to make a serious study of the proper calendaring or publishing of collections which will serve as a basis for research in the less cultivated fields of social, economic and intellectual development.
III. Development of Research Personnel
At present a distressingly small proportion of undergraduates of high distinction in the larger institutions continue their work to the doctoral stage. This and the other problems discussed in this section are of such urgent importance that we recommend that the Association appoint a committee to investigate possibilities of a solution.
Interest in historical work, if it is to lead a student to make of history a life career, must be aroused as early as possible in his college course. It is greatly to be desired, therefore, that some of the introductory instruction should be given by eminent teachers of history, and that every effort should be made to stimulate and encourage interest through personal contact. Honor courses, tutorial systems and proseminars offer opportunities for such contact and at the same time serve as introductions to methods of research. Undergraduate history clubs have possibilities of further useful development.
Two difficulties, however, must be constantly faced. The financial remuneration for the best men in academic work is not comparable to the highest rewards in certain other professions. In view of this situation it is perhaps inevitable that some of the most promising students will seek a career in other fields. On the other hand, little attention is being devoted at present to pointing out to undergraduate students of unusual promise in history the distinctive advantages of the historical profession. Yet in many institutions a systematic effort is made to enlighten students with regard to the opportunities of the legal, medical and business professions. We urge the Council of the Association to call this state of affairs to the attention of departments of history with a view to remedying the situation. Much would be gained by the provision of more and larger scholarships or fellowships for first-year graduate students of exceptional promise. Where assistantships are given, great care should be exercised, however, to prevent exploitation of students in the interests of departmental exigencies. Furthermore, a rigorous system of selection in admission to graduate schools will, by excluding mediocre students, make the profession more attractive to men of outstanding ability.
There are often real advantages for the graduate student in dividing the period of his study between different institutions so as to secure instruction from men of eminence wherever they may be found. But this migratory period should come early in the course of training. Once a student has determined upon the subject of his dissertation it is inadvisable that he should break his connection with the men under whom he has begun work on his project. Most graduate students hesitate to divide their period of study because they are unwilling to sacrifice the contacts or instructional positions they have made for themselves in a given institution, and because they may be at a disadvantage in the examination in subjects pursued elsewhere under other teachers. This situation will be remedied when graduate schools show a greater readiness to accept credits from other recognized institutions and when history departments give greater consideration to different systems and viewpoints. Traveling fellowships, scholarships and fellowships, even if granted only for a summer or a semester, might do 'much to encourage men to broaden their training.
In the interest of graduate instruction we also suggest that the practice of exchanging professors might well be developed further. An occasional sojourn in another institution will not only benefit the students, but will serve to stimulate the professor himself, broaden his acquaintance with methods used elsewhere and bring him into closer touch with other historians. The organization of instruction in our graduate schools is often not well adjusted to the particular needs of the student. He is apt to be subjected to much regimentation and insistence on the fulfillment of a fairly rigid program. Departments of history should coöperate with other departments to enable the student of history, when his needs require it, to receive appropriate training in cognate subjects. Emphasis should be put upon subjects rather than upon courses, and the doctoral examinations should include testing in the subject or subjects which the student has found necessary for his particular purposes. In that part of the examination which deals with history we suggest that the testing should not spread over the whole range of human history but be limited to selected fields. A general knowledge of these fields might well be supplemented by an intensive knowledge of prearranged portions thereof. Dissertations should normally be introductory studies in broader fields of investigation so that the student, upon receipt of his degree, may without loss of time or energy continue his scholarly work.
In a majority of the fields of historical study the problem of foreign travel is one of the most urgent and most vital. Something has been done in recent years through the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim Foundation and other similar agencies to enable students who have received their doctor's degree to pursue their training and research abroad, but the provisions for advanced graduate students are lamentably inadequate. Even in institutions where such traveling fellowships exist they are usually too few in number and not sufficiently remunerative. Foreign study and language equipment are the sine qua non of serious productive work and successful teaching in most fields. Men are not properly qualified to teach the history of foreign countries until they have come to know them at first hand. Every effort should therefore be made to interest universities and large foundations in securing the establishment of adequate fellowships, not only for men who have obtained the degree but for those still in formal training. These fellowships should be sufficiently remunerative to attract men of desired quality. We ask nothing for second-rate men, but we recognize a crying need for adequate provision for all men of high promise and attainment.
Much attention has been devoted of late to the difficulties in the way of productive scholarship by men in academic posts. A detailed study by Professor M. W. Jernegan has been published in the American Historical Review (XXXIII, ,1-22, 1927), and an elaborate analysis of teaching loads has been made under the auspices of the American Association of University Professors. The importance of teaching we all recognize; it cannot be overemphasized. But too heavy a teaching schedule may hinder scholarship, which, after all, is the foundation of effective teaching. Experience richly justifies the policy of relieving scholars of promise and achievement from administrative work so that their energies may be devoted exclusively to research and teaching. In some institutions schedule devices have made it possible for the scholar to secure an unusual amount of consecutive free time without additional cost to the university budget. We suggest for study such plans as the reading period, as introduced at Harvard, which relieves the instructional staff of teaching obligations for several weeks in January and May, excepting in introductory courses; and the divided week at Smith College, in which the recitations of a three-hour course come in the first three or the last three days of the week. We further commend the practice of giving sabbatical leave with full pay for an entire academic year to scholars actively producing, and we view with approval the policy of an increasing number of institutions in making grants-in-aid for research work carried on by members of the faculty in residence.
IV. Improvement of Research Methods
In our judgment there is, at present, no need for new general manuals of historical method. In the field of modern European history, however, no manual of historical method is available in English which deals specifically with the problems of study in the modern period. It would be desirable to have a translation of Wolff's Einführung in das Studium der Neueren Geschichte, but more important yet would be a translation of the recent manual of Wilhelm Bauer: Einführung in das Studium der Geschichte. In the American field we suggest that a manual for local amateur workers would assist them in attaining higher professional standards.
Method can best be taught concretely in seminar work. The training of the student in the ways of historical criticism will depend largely on the competence of his instructor. More emphasis might well be laid upon the auxiliary sciences, such as palaeography, epigraphy, diplomatics and statistics, and special subjects like the history of the printed book and the technique of diplomacy. More attention might also be given to synthesis and integration and to the various schools of historical interpretation. So much stress is now placed upon monographic work of a factual nature that the training of the student in larger concepts is apt to be neglected. In view of the fact that so much work of this kind is being done in Europe, it seems unwise to leave American students in ignorance of it.
Seminars offer a particular opportunity for the expression of the teacher's personality and technique. It would therefore be a grave mistake to mold them according to a common type. Various points, however, deserve attention and consideration. The type of seminar in which each student works out an isolated problem is well adapted to the needs of thesis work, but often deadens the interest of the students who do not participate in the report. The other type, in which all students work upon topics related to a larger subject, seems preferable and is rather more general. The field selected for study should ordinarily be one in which the instructor is working or has worked. All students should be required to do a certain amount of general reading on the subject in order that they may be able to take an intelligent part in the discussion. Membership in seminars should be kept down to a small number if there is to be profitable discussion and criticism. Efforts should be made to exclude, those not properly fitted to do the work, and stress should be laid upon the presentation of results in well-written and finished form. We recommend that occasional sessions on the subject of seminars be arranged for future meetings of the Association.
In the fields of ancient and mediaeval history it is the general practice for students to do work in the contributory techniques, such as philology, numismatics and palaeography. In the modern fields students are encouraged to spread their work to related subjects. But there are few requirements of this kind. It may be that lack of acquaintance with other disciplines has much to do with keeping historical work in certain traditional channels. We urge history departments to arrange with other departments in allied fields for suitable courses in subjects like statistics, psychology, philosophy and literature. History departments should show a greater willingness to accept courses in allied subjects as fulfilling the requirements for the doctor's degree, so that the student who wishes to develop interests in related fields shall not be overburdened and hampered in his progress. In the field of history itself continued efforts must be made to see that the student obtains a good general background of historical knowledge in the earlier years of his formal training before concentrating in a special field.
There is great need for improvement in the style of historical writing. This is a problem to which more and more attention should be given. It is just as much the business of the historian to transmit the truth as it is to acquire it. There should be more emphasis on the quality of work done and less on the quantity of detailed material collected. Obviously there is also a close connection between good thinking and good writing. A monograph or book which lacks organization, clarity, emphasis and coherence usually indicates that the writer has failed to perform the essential synthetic operations of classifying material, reasoning, forming conclusions and integrating the facts discovered. Students should be encouraged to read widely in the great historical classics, but the seminar offers the best opportunity for stressing and insisting on the proper presentation of the results of research. More rigid stylistic requirements should be demanded also in the writing of dissertations.
The administration of the language requirements leaves much to be desired. We do not wish to take a stand with regard to the relative merits of a rigorous system which requires French and German of all students and a flexible system which allows the offering of any two foreign languages suitable to the student's particular needs. But at the present time many sins are committed in the administration of the language requirements, and we therefore strongly urge that departments of history insist upon the actual fulfillment of the requirements as they stand in their institutions. Every effort should be made to bring to the attention of the undergraduate the need for language study for those planning to go on with historical work. In the graduate school the fulfillment of the requirements should be demanded at an early date. Students should not be allowed to go far before they have satisfied the department of the adequacy of their equipment. Much might be done in this direction by the assignment of reading in foreign languages and by constantly referring to important material in these languages, so that the significance of this training may be brought home to students in a concrete way.
In many fields the language problem goes far beyond the need for a knowledge of two modern languages. The student in ancient history is helpless without a thorough command of Latin and Greek, and the mediaevalist finds Latin indispensable. Even in modern fields a knowledge of French and German is quite inadequate if historical work is to be extended into hitherto neglected areas. Students may need to know Spanish, the Slavic languages, Arabic, Chinese, etc. In some institutions courses have been organized by the language departments to meet the special needs of students of history in the more familiar foreign tongues. But this arrangement hardly touches the Oriental and other difficult languages. We recommend that the Council of the American Historical Association interest itself in this problem, and that, if possible, it obtain funds to enable advanced students and established scholars to secure instruction, private if need be, in their peculiar needs. Most students and scholars cannot afford the time to work on difficult languages in regular college courses, even when these are offered. They need the concentrated instruction which can be secured only through the undivided attention of a competent instructor, and this costs more money than they can afford. In order that their progress should not be unnecessarily delayed some provision for private instruction is highly desirable.
V. Improvement of Research Organization
The historical profession has profited greatly from the membership of the Association in the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies and from its coöperation with these organizations. In this way scholars have been enabled to carry on research projects of great value which, without such aid, would have been in many cases impossible. We trust there will be no cessation in the efforts being made to give greater publicity to the work carried on by these organizations and the opportunities they offer, so that the facts may become more adequately known to the historical guild.
If historical work is to be better coördinated and expanded the American Historical Association itself should have a stronger organization. Its work in the past has been admirable, considering the great limitations under which it has labored. It now needs permanent headquarters and a permanent secretariat. We should welcome a plan by which these headquarters would be placed in close association with those of affiliated societies. An adequate central organization is the greatest present need of the profession.
We call attention also to the desirability of a better system of exchange among scholars. Members of the conference groups convoked by the Committee felt very strongly that they had greatly benefited by the discussions in which they took part. Unfortunately the annual meetings of the Association are not held under conditions conducive to a consideration of common intellectual problems by groups of scholars of like interests. We therefore recommend that the Council of the American Historical Association seek funds to make possible the holding of a series of research conferences each year, composed of specialists in particular fields. These conferences should, if possible, be held in some quiet place where there are no outside distractions. By bringing scholars in the same field into closer contact they would promote the discussion of common problems, and might also serve as clearing houses for data and suggestions in regard to coöperative undertakings.
The work of the local social science research councils established in twenty or more universities has been fruitful. This type of organization might well be extended. We point out, however, that it is essential to the efficiency of the work of these councils that they should support individual projects as well as coöperative enterprises.
In the ancient history field the new institutes established at the universities of Chicago and Michigan have filled a great need and have furnished models for further organization along these lines. The outgrowth of less formal groupings of scholars from different departments interested in common research, they appear to be the ideal solution for certain types of enterprises.
In behalf of the mediaeval group we recommend that the Council of the Association investigate the possibility of the creation by the American Academy at Rome of a school of mediaeval and renaissance studies, for the benefit of students of history, archaeology and allied subjects. The French School at Rome is a signal illustration of the possibilities inherent in such an organization.
In the field of American history the problem of research organization is somewhat different. The professional historian and the historical societies would both profit by the cultivation of a closer relationship. Historical societies need, and in most cases welcome, the guidance of the scholar. Membership in such societies is composed chiefly of persons deeply interested in history though often without the special training required for a correct understanding of historical problems. The professional historian can bring to such bodies the scientific point of view, stimulate interest in scholarly work, and offer advice and guidance in the collection of historical materials, the preservation of historical monuments and the marking of important historical sites. The scholar himself has much to gain from such relationship. Not only will it enable him to reach a larger public, but the publications of these societies are appropriate agencies for printing the products of research of members and students of academic departments of history.
From the point of view of functions there are, in the United States, two types of state historical commissions or societies: (1) those which undertake research programs, and (2) those which are primarily concerned with the collection, preservation and publication of historical materials. In many cases it would add to the value of both types of activities if such organizations were to coöperate with one another so as to give their work a regional, or perhaps even a national, unity. The Federal Reserve districts have been suggested as possible units, but it is recognized that there must, be and should be much overlapping of territory. Surveys of sources and of research needs might well be made for each region. Such surveys and coöperative enterprises might, for example, be carried out in the archives at Ottawa, a rich depository of material of great importance to both Canadian and American history. Investigations on a regional basis might well be made of such subjects as steamboating on the Mississippi, phases of the history of immigration, the changes in the system of landholding which accompanied the Revolution, etc.
VI. Publication Problems
One of the perennial problems of publication concerns the printing of doctoral dissertations. In many universities means are lacking for making available the new information and viewpoints embodied in this type of research. A few institutions, however, publish abstracts of completed dissertations. Though such abstracts can seldom give the evidence on which the author's conclusions are based, and though the publication of an article or series of articles based upon the dissertation may frequently be preferable, the abstract seems at present to be the only practicable way of making known to the scholarly world the results of most dissertations. We therefore recommend that abstracts of completed theses, with information as to where they may be found, be published in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association or in some other form. Summaries of dissertations in other fields of learning should be included when such dissertations are obviously of interest to students of history. The individual abstract should be approximately six hundred words in length and should state the type of materials used, the methods employed and the contribution to knowledge made by the investigation. We do not recommend the publication of abstracts of masters' theses.
In the case of unpublished doctoral dissertations we recommend that the Council of the American Historical Association suggest to graduate schools that they require the deposit in their local library of two copies of such theses, so that one may be lent to outside scholars, provided the author's consent to such loan be secured.
The present status and policy of the American Historical Review was the subject of informal discussion in some of the conference groups. We believe that this is an appropriate time, in view of the recent establishment of periodicals devoted to special fields and because of other considerations, for the Board of Editors to reconsider the policy and the function of the Review in forwarding historical scholarship.
A general criticism made of historical journals concerns the reviewing and bibliographical service. Too often the reviews do not review the book. They dilate upon insignificant errors and thus give a misleading impression of the work under consideration. There is a general demand for more critical appraisal both of the scientific and literary merits of books. Without reducing the number of reviews, more emphasis and space should be given to important works. We suggest that the editors take steps to procure funds for the purchase of significant works which they cannot otherwise secure for review. We recommend that sessions at the meetings of the American Historical Association be occasionally devoted to the consideration of the art of book reviewing.
We recognize as an urgent need the establishment of series of brief monographs, to take care of writings too long for periodical articles and too short for regular book form. Such a series would offer a suitable medium for the publication of doctoral dissertations in shortened form as well as for the work of mature and established scholars. We recommend that the American Historical Association seek funds for the establishment of a series of this kind.
It is equally important that additional provision be made for the publication of larger works by qualified historians. Technical studies have no commercial market, and it is increasingly difficult to interest publishing houses in manuscripts not likely to yield a quick financial return. The Revolving Fund of the American Historical Association, though of great value in this connection, has proved to be entirely inadequate. The foundations and the federated councils should make provision for the publication of the results of all meritorious projects of research sponsored by them and should, if possible, expand their facilities for the publication of technical material. At the present time the publication of large works often involves a considerable financial strain on the scholar, who has already given liberally of his time and effort in research and writing. Sometimes it deters him from undertaking such works at all.
VII. Summary of Recommendations to the Council of the Association
While this report has been concerned with many and various aspects of historical research, certain recommendations are addressed more particularly to the Council of the Association and call for prompt consideration of that body. For the sake of convenience these proposals are recapitulated:
I. Reorganization of the Association
a. That the Council secure funds for the establishment of permanent headquarters and a permanent secretariat.
b. That the Council make provision each year for holding conferences of research specialists in various fields.
2. Program of the Annual Meeting
a. That sessions be regularly devoted to a consideration of the contributions which related subjects can make to the solution of historical problems.
b. That sessions be occasionally devoted to a consideration of the art of book reviewing.
c. That occasional sessions on the subject of seminars be arranged.
3. Recruitment and Training of Personnel
a. That the Council appoint a committee to study the problem in all its aspects.
b. That the Council call to the attention of departments of history the desirability of making systematic efforts to acquaint gifted undergraduates with the opportunities of the historical profession.
c. That the Council bring to the attention of leading universities the need for making provision for the systematic training of archivists.
d. That the Council study the possibility of securing facilities for the better training of museum directors and for the creation of a more adequate museum science.
e. That the Council seek possible ways and means of enabling students in some of the less familiar fields to obtain the unusual linguistic equipment sometimes necessary.
f. That the Council investigate the possibility of the creation at Rome of a school to train students in the methods of research in mediaeval and renaissance history, archaeology and allied subjects.
4. Development of Materials
a. That the Council suggest to graduate schools that they require the deposit in their university library of two copies of doctoral dissertations, so that one may be lent to outside scholars.
b. That the Council appoint a committee to see what can be done to promote the systematic collection of motion-picture films of historical interest.
c. That the Council take under advisement the creation of a fund to enable mediaeval scholars to procure reproductions of documentary and other materials for research.
d. That the Council give continuous study to the problem of building up source collections for research in American social, economic and intellectual history, and that it devote attention to the development of an improved technique for handling such materials.
5. Problems of Publication
a. That the Council provide for the establishment of a series of brief monographs to take care of writings too long for periodical articles and too short for regular book form.
b. That the Council undertake the periodical publication of a list of research and editorial projects being actively carried forward by mature scholars in the modern fields.
c. That the Council arrange for the annual publication of abstracts of doctoral dissertations.
d. That the Council make a study of the calendaring or publishing of collections which will serve as a basis for research in the less cultivated fields of American social, economic and intellectual development.
e. That the Council refer to the joint Committee on Materials for Research the problem of the preparation of finding lists of European materials in American libraries.
f. That the Council study ways and means by which the preparation and publication of a finding list of museum materials might be accomplished.
6. Immediate Budgetary Needs
That, in view of the greatly expanding needs and opportunities in the field of historical research, the Council take steps to secure adequate financial provision to insure the efficient functioning of the Association. It is the judgment of the Planning Committee that the annual budget of the Association should not fall short of $25,150, itemized as follows
|Salary of Permanent Secretary||$7,500|
|Salary of editor of American Historical Review (half-time)||$3,750|
|Secretarial assistance and supplies||$2,000|
|Traveling expenses of secretary||$1,200|
|Expenses of committees||$1,500|
|Fund for research conferences||$3,000|
|Cost of monograph series||$5,000|
A. M. Schlesinger, Chairman
William L. Langer, Secretary
Charles W. David
Guy Stanton Ford
Carlton J. H. Hayes
Dexter Perkins, Ex Officio
Last Updated: May 22, 2007