Church History in an Age of Uncertainty: Historiographical Patterns in the United States, 1906-1990

Church History in an Age of Uncertainty: Historiographical Patterns in the United States, 1906-1990

Church History in an Age of Uncertainty: Historiographical Patterns in the United States, 1906-1990

Church History in an Age of Uncertainty: Historiographical Patterns in the United States, 1906-1990

Synopsis

Essential to Catholic, Protestant, and even secular scholars of American religious history this is the first historiographical analysis of the work of Henry K. Rowe, James H. Nichols, Leonard J. Trinterud, H. Shelton Smith, John T. McNeill, Herbert W. Schneider, Robert T. Handy, John T. Ellis, and Jaroslav Pelikan.

Aware that every generation rewrites history, Bowden bases his investigation of major twentieth-century church historians on two questions: Why are young historians dissatisfied with earlier treatments? What leads them to believe their version is better?

Henry Warner Bowden's extensive bibliography includes A Century of Church History: The Legacy of Philip Schaff.

Excerpt

Historiographical analysis is the study of historians, and this book focuses on twentieth-century American scholars who wrote about various aspects of the Christian church. Another kind of historiographical study looks at histories of particular topics, tracing changes in the way historians have interpreted Puritanism, religious freedom, or pietism, to name a few. But here I propose to analyze historians themselves, noting what theories they expounded regarding method and interpretation. Prima facie material is only the beginning, though, because it is much more important to investigate what historians actually did. In their body of writings, historians disclose what they really think about their subject matter, what they accepted as satisfactory evidence, and how they constructed interpretive patterns. After studying representative historians in several successive generations, one can also notice shifts in emphasis and procedure that illustrate how the historical profession has moved collectively to its present state.

Many observers have noted that each age rewrites history in light of its own experience. This does not mean that history is "bunk" or consists of tricks we play on the dead. It means rather that every generation adds its insights to accumulated information about the past. Whenever someone writes history, he or she brings to the task all the "virtues and deficiencies, the enlightenment and prejudice, and the liberating and restricting experiences of his own life and his own time." Finished products reflect the age in which they were written, indicating the intellectual currents that helped bring studies to fruition. Those like myself who treat written histories as primary sources do so in order to identify and assess those intellectual currents. As one such analyst put it, "What historians have to say about the nature, method, and substance of their craft . . . should have more than parochial interest; it should aid in understanding the quality and texture of the era of which . . .

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