Keepers of Our past: Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s

By David J. Russo | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 12 Amateurs and Academics

The great outpouring of amateur local historical writing between the Civil War and the Great Depression coincided with, indeed was intricately connected with, the swift development of academic historical study at the turn of the century. It is important to recognize that, until at least the 1930s, academic historians in the United States were connected in important ways to the much older and popular world of antiquarian activity. Academic history did not develop in isolation from amateur history, even though academic historians from the beginning tended to concentrate on the nation's past.

This connectedness was clearly evident in the manner that local, state, and national historical societies developed during these years. In the 1870s and 1880s, historical study patterned after German scholarship was introduced to American colleges and universities by those who received advanced training in Germany, most notably by Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1884, a group of forty met in Saratoga, New York, at the annual meeting of the American Social Science Association (founded in 1865) and decided to form an American Historical Association(AHA). J. Franklin Jameson, a member of that group, later explained the timing of this action by referring to the "heightened sense of national importance and unity" following the Civil War, the training of advanced students in Germany who were eager, upon their return, to raise the level of historical writing in America, and a general "impulse toward the formation of national societies of specialists," already much in evidence.(1)

Among that founding group, Jameson later believed the two most influential men to have been Adams, who served as secretary until his death in 1900, and an amateur historian, Dr. Clarence W. Bowen, who served as the original treasurer. Indeed, Adams, as perhaps the most influential scholar in the United States during these years, focused the attention of his graduate students at Johns Hopkins on the study of local history, hoping that the interests of amateurs and academics within the AHA would

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