RICHARD HUME WERKING
A few months ago one of our chemistry professors at Trinity mentioned to me that his students sometimes had to stop "doing chemistry in the laboratory" to go to the library to access the chemistry literature. In response to my leading question, he quickly agreed that using the library was not the same as "doing chemistry"; that was done in the laboratory.
The situation is quite different in history, especially in my own sub-discipline, American history. Several years ago, William Appleman Williams, dean of the infamous "Wisconsin School of American Diplomatic History," published an engaging piece in the Organization of American Historians Newsletter, "Thoughts on the Fun and Purpose of Being an American Historian."
To Williams the library is the laboratory of the historian and the history student. As he put it in his article, he always sends "undergraduates as well as graduate students off into the bowels of the library to read other people's mail." 1 Williams also made an explicit comparison between learning history and learning chemistry, quoting a chemistry major in his senior seminar in foreign policy: "I never knew [before that] I could do history like I do silicon crystals. You got me into something new; you put a new window in my head. There's no formula for this one. I get to write my own equations. And, man, that is fun." 2
Werking is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Library, Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. In May 1991 he will become Librarian, Associate Dean, and Professor of History at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland.