John Milton Cooper, J.r..
In his 1958 presidential address to the American Historical Association, Walter Prescott Webb admonished ambitious younger historians among his listeners that “if they wish to occupy this place, they should listen attentively to my story ... and then be extremely careful to avoid following the example of one who has done nearly everything wrong.” Arthur Link, who was thirty-eight years old at the time, was one of the historians toward whom Webb aimed his admonition. If Link was not in the audience that heard those words, he almost certainly read them soon afterward in the American Historical Review. But no matter how the message reached Link, he did not heed it.
Link followed Webb's example rather than his advice. Just as the older man had flouted the prevailing fashions among American historians in the first half of the twentieth century, so did Arthur Link in the second half. Like Webb, Link was a southerner who received all of his higher education at the state university of his home state—in his case, North Carolina. Unlike Webb, he did not confine his scholarship almost exclusively to his home region, although he did make significant contributions to southern history. Nor did he spend his academic career in his home state or region but ventured out to teach at two front-rank institutions of higher learning—Northwestern and Princeton. Indeed, Link flouted the fashions of his time as blatantly as Webb did, and he also rose to the presidency of the American Historical Association.
Link rejected the prevailing fashion among his scholarly peers by declining to address the sweep of American history and by not aspiring to produce grand syntheses. Instead, he focused nearly all of his work on a single decade, 1910 to 1920, and on a single person, Woodrow Wilson. In maintaining such a tight focus on one era and one person, Link more closely resembled literary scholars who devote their careers to a single