The Comparative Approach to American History

The Comparative Approach to American History

The Comparative Approach to American History

The Comparative Approach to American History


In the mid 1960s, C. Vann Woodward was asked to organize a program of broadcast lectures on US history for the Voice of America as part of a longer series designed to acquaint foreign audiences with leaders in American arts and sciences. Reasoning that a comparative approach "was peculiarly adapted to the interests and needs of foreign audiences," Woodward commissioned twenty-two noted scholars to cover classic topics in American history--the Civil War, the World Wars, slavery, immigration, and many others--but to add a comparative dimension by relating these topics to developments elsewhere in the world. The result was the 1968 Basic Books edition of The Comparative Approach to American History. Now, three decades later, Oxford is very pleased to be reissuing this classic collection of historical essays in a paperback edition, with a new introduction by Woodward that discusses the decline and resurgence of comparative history since the 1960s.


It has now been thirty years since this book was first published, and it has been out of print for over a decade. A new edition after so long a time calls for some account of its original reception, its subsequent influence, and what it is that is thought to justify a new edition.

It was to be expected that critics should take exception to some views on comparative history expressed by one or another of the twenty-three contributors, no matter how distinguished they were in their own special fields. Nevertheless, reviewers did express praise and support strong enough to encourage hopes for the influence and the future of the book.

For example, in an essay review Carl N. Degler said, "There are enough suggestions here of what comparative history has to offer the historians of the United States to provide an impetus to such studies." Michael Kammen's predictions were even stronger. "Professor Woodward's book is a major publishing event. It will make an exciting teaching device and stimulate scholarship in many fields."

Measured by the comparative history work produced in the years immediately following, however, these expectations now . . .

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