The Historical Methodology of John Tracy Ellis

By Gollar, C. Walker | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Historical Methodology of John Tracy Ellis


Gollar, C. Walker, The Catholic Historical Review


John Tracy Ellis, the dean of American Catholic historians of the mid- to late-twentieth century, never published a treatise on historical methodology, but did write about the subject when faced with the most difficult challenge of his academic career. In 1960, David Francis Sweeney, Ellis's student at The Catholic University of America, unearthed allegations that John Lancaster Spalding, bishop of Peoria, had conducted a sexual affair for nearly twenty years. In numerous letters, Ellis and Sweeney agonized about how to handle this information. Neither Ellis nor Sweeney believed the accusation was true, but both recognized that it had influenced Spalding's career, which was the focus of Sweeney's dissertation. Ellis concluded that Spalding's story should not be told in full, yet set the stage for future historians not only to revisit Spalding's career but also to explore Ellis's deliberations, and thus to reconsider what he routinely had encouraged-telling the whole truth.

Keywords: Ellis, Monsignor John Tracy; Spalding, Bishop John Lancaster; Sweeney, David Francis, O.F.M.

In spring 1950 John Tracy Ellis met David Francis Sweeney. A fortyfour-year-old priest from the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, Ellis had been teaching American Catholic history for about eight years at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. A twenty-eightyear-old Franciscan priest, Sweeney had just completed his MA in library science from Holy Name College in Washington, DC, and was working at the reference desk at Catholic University's Mullen Library. Ellis encouraged Sweeney to enroll in Catholic University's doctoral program in church history. That summer Sweeney sent a copy of his master's thesis, "A Survey of Catholic Americana and Catholic Book Publishing in the United States, 1831-1840," to Ellis. The attached cover letter was the first of more than 300 pieces of correspondence that these men would exchange over the next forty years.

Sweeney began doctoral studies in fall 1950 under Ellis's direction. By the time of Sweeney's graduation, Ellis had become, as he is now widely acclaimed to be, the dean of American Catholic historians of the mid- to late-twentieth century. Ellis certainly was a prolific writer and a popular speaker. Above and beyond his many publications, however, Ellis's fundamental approach to history might be better revealed in his private correspondence. The vast majority of the Ellis-Sweeney letters wrestled with what Ellis called the most difficult challenge of his academic career - namely, the treatment of some delicate material that Sweeney had unearthed concerning the life of John Lancaster Spalding, bishop of Peoria. This article is not primarily about Spalding or that delicate material, but focuses instead on the deliberations around that delicate material. Especially when situated amidst the broader context of Ellis's career, these deliberations reveal how one extremely prominent and influential historian approached history.1

Spalding, Peoria's first bishop, inspired Ellis from an early age. Spalding suffered a career-ending stroke in August 1905 and passed away in 1916. Born on July 30, 1905, in Seneca, located in the Diocese of Peoria, Ellis never saw Spalding in person. Yet Ellis's mother, who had been confirmed by Spalding, commonly spoke of him, as did many neighbors of the Ellis family. Spalding also was widely acclaimed at St. Viator's Academy and College in nearby Bourbonnais, Illinois. Ellis studied there from 1921 to 1927. Ellis learned more about Spalding at Catholic University, which granted Ellis a PhD in medieval history in 1930. Ellis then taught briefly at St. Viator's College before he took a position in 1932 at the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Minnesota.

Although busy teaching various courses at the College of St.Teresa, Ellis published one short yet significant article at this time that revealed his early approach to history. While other Catholics, including Pope Pius XI, were commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIITs 1891 social encyclical, Ellis in late 1933 also drew attention to "Another Anniversary. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Historical Methodology of John Tracy Ellis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.