The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

Introduction

This book had its genesis in the spring of 1968 during the program planning for the 1969 meetings of the Organization of American Historians in Philadelphia. The program committee chairman, Robert Wiebe of Northwestern University, had earlier proposed that we depart from the traditional potpourri of papers in favor of a program with a single unifying theme, an assessment of the state of American history. Our committee invited scholars of various ages, levels of prestige, and intellectual styles to present statements on their own special areas in American history.

By spring we had enough acceptances to realize that a remarkable program was in the making. It occurred to several of us that these papers would deserve a larger audience than the relative few who would attend each session in Philadelphia. Published together, the papers would constitute an important appraisal of the state of American history as we near the bicentennial of the American republic. I agreed to edit such a book and asked those who were scheduled to present papers to revise them for consideration. The twenty essays printed here were selected for the importance of their statements about their fields of American history.

The result is a useful professional stocktaking. While most of the essays incorporate at least a brief review of recent literature, and some an extensive one, they eschew that kind of historiography in which an understanding of what happened is less important than an understand-

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