Understanding the American Past: American History and Its Interpretation

By Edward N. Saveth | Go to book overview

Historical Understanding in Democratic America

by EDWARD N. SAVETH

The real historians are those who love history for its own sake, who love it when they are old as when they were young. . . . To them history is a profession, a profession worthy of its hire, and in itself a sufficient reward for the hardest efforts. [ JOHN SPENCER BASSETT: The Middle Group of American Historians.]

THIS volume is a synthesis of American history and American historiography. The editor's introduction and his introductions to the various sections are historiographic, stressing the meanings that historians have discovered in the past, from the time of the publication of the first volume of George Bancroft's History of the United States from the Discovery of the American Continent in 1834 to the present. The selections are descriptive of major events and developments in American history as told by some of our outstanding historians. They offer the reader, if not a history of the United States, then insight into the nature of American development based upon accounts of some of the more significant aspects of our history. The selections provide, in addition, a rich and varied sampling of American historical writing.

Before attempting to trace the course of American historical interpretation, something ought to be said about my own conception of historical understanding. The latter I have found to be conditioned by the impact upon the historian of the world in which he lives, and also by the development of his art. This, I realize, is not all there is to it by any means. Historical understanding is, in addition, a highly individual matter--an analysis of which ought to place

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