Henry Steele Commager: Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present

By Neil Jumonville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Philosophy Teaching by Experience,
1928–1936

While Commager's scholarly ties in the late 1920s and early 1930s were mostly in New York, at nyu and Columbia, he also was loosely tied by friendships to other universities. When Samuel Eliot Morison was already an established and respected member of the Harvard history department in the late 1920s, for example, Commager came into contact with him. The two were from different worlds: Commager was yet a beginning professor at nyu who had just finished his doctoral dissertation, a young man new to the East Coast with a fine educational pedigree but from a rather inauspicious background, whereas Morison had achieved wide recognition, paraded himself in a New England patrician manner, and had impressive family and social connections.

Despite the difference in their stature and station, Morison invited Commager to help him write The Growth of the American Republic, which became the most important American history textbook in the middle decades of the twentieth century. It is unclear how the two scholars met and why Morison was willing to take on an unknown associate in the project. Perhaps they came into contact when each of them had an article published next to the other's in the Oregon Historical Quarterly in March 1927. 1 Maybe Morison saw there, in a condensation of Commager's master's thesis, a clear mind at work or the ability to summarize and transform a complex debate into an interesting story. Morison was committed to reaching the larger

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