Historiography of the United States

The historiography of the United States refers to the studies, sources, critical methods and interpretations used by scholars to study the history of the United States. While history examines the interplay of events in the past, historiography examines the secondary sources written by historians as books and articles, evaluates the primary sources they use, and provides a critical examination of the methodology of historical study.


Historians have formed scores of scholarly organizations, which typically hold annual conferences where scholarly papers are presented, and which publish scholarly journals. In addition, every state and many localities have their own historical societies, focused on their own histories and sources.

1889 AHA officers

The American Historical Association (AHA) is the oldest and largest society for professional historians in the U.S. Founded in 1884, it promotes historical studies covering all continents and time periods, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials. It publishes The American Historical Review five times a year, with scholarly articles and book reviews.[1]

While the AHA is the largest organization for historians working in the United States, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the major organization for historians who study and teach about the United States. Formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, its membership comprises college and university professors, as well as graduate students, independent historians, archivists, museum curators, and other public historians.[2] The OAH publishes the quarterly scholarly journal Journal of American History. In 2010 its individual membership was 8,000 and its institutional membership 1,250, and its operating budget was approximately $2.9 million[3]

Other large regional groups for professionals include the Southern Historical Association, founded in 1934 for white historians teaching in the South. It now chiefly specializes in the history of the South. In 1970 it elected its first black president, John Hope Franklin. The Western History Association formed in 1961 to bring together both professional scholars and amateur writers dealing with the West. Dozens of other organizations deal in specialized topics, such as the Society for Military History and the Social Science History Association.

Pre 1800

During the colonial era, there were a handful of serious scholars—most of them men of affairs who wrote about their own colony. They included Robert Beverley (1673–1722) on Virginia, Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) on Massachusetts, and Samuel Smith on Pennsylvania. The Loyalist Thomas Jones (1731–1792) wrote on New York from exile.[4]


Mercy Otis Warren

The historiography of the Early National period focused on the American Revolution and the Constitution. The first studies came from Federalist historians, such as Chief Justice John Marshall (1755–1835). Marshall wrote a well-received four-volume of biography of George Washington that was far more than a biography, and covered the political and military history of the Revolutionary Era. Marshall emphasized Washington's virtue and military prowess. Historians have complimented his highly accurate detail, but note that Marshall—like many early historians—relied heavily on the Annual Register, edited by Edmund Burke.[5] Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814) wrote her own history favoring the Jeffersonian perspective stressing natural rights and equality. She emphasized the dangers to republicanism emanating from Britain, and called for the subordination of passion to reason, and the subsuming of private selfishness in the general public good.[6]


David Ramsay (1749–1815), an important Patriot leader from South Carolina, wrote thorough, scholarly histories of his state and the early United States. Trained as a physician, he was a moderate Federalist in politics. Messer (2002) examines the transition in Ramsay's republican perspective from his History of the American Revolution (1789) and his biography of Washington (1807) to his more conservative History of the United States (3 vol. 1816–17), which was part of his 12-volume world history.[7] Ramsay called on citizens to demonstrate republican virtues in helping reform and improve society. A conservative, he warned of the dangers of zealotry and the need to preserve existing institutions. O'Brien (1994) says Ramsay's 1789 History of the American Revolution was one of the earliest and most successful histories. It located American values within the European Enlightenment. Ramsay had no brief for what later was known as American exceptionalism, holding that the destiny of the new nation United States would be congruent with European political and cultural development.[8]


Richard Hildreth (1807–1865), a Yankee scholar and political writer, wrote a thorough highly precise history of the nation down to 1820. His six-volume History of the United States (1849–52) was dry and heavily factual—he rarely made a mistake in terms of names, dates, events and speeches. His Federalist views and dry style lost market share to George Bancroft's more exuberant and democratic tomes. Hildreth explicitly favored the Federalist Party and denigrated the Jeffersonians. He was an active political commentator and leading anti-slavery intellectual, so President Lincoln gave him a choice diplomatic assignment in Europe.[9]


George Bancroft United States Secretary of Navy c. 1860

George Bancroft (1800–1891), trained in the leading German universities, was a Democratic politician and accomplished scholar, whose magisterial History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent covered the new nation in depth down to 1789.[10] Bancroft was imbued with the spirit of Romanticism, emphasizing the emergence of nationalism and republican values, and rooting on every page for the Patriots. His masterwork started appearing in 1834, and he constantly revised it in numerous editions.[11] Along with John Gorham Palfrey (1796–1881), he wrote the most comprehensive history of colonial America. Billias argues Bancroft played on four recurring themes to explain how America developed its unique values: providence, progress, patria, and pan-democracy. "Providence" meant that destiny depended more on God than on human will. The idea of "progress" indicated that through continuous reform a better society was possible. "Patria" (love of country) was deserved because America's spreading influence would bring liberty and freedom to more and more of the world. "Pan-democracy" meant the nation-state was central to the drama, not specific heroes or villains.[12]

Bancroft was an indefatigable researcher who had a thorough command of the sources, but his rotund romantic style and enthusiastic patriotism annoyed later generations of scientific historians, who did not assign his books to students. Furthermore, scholars of the "Imperial School" after 1890 took a much more favorable view of the benign intentions of the British Empire than he did.[13][14]

Creating and preserving collective memory

In 1791 the Massachusetts Historical Society became the nation's first state historical society; it was a private association of well-to-do individuals with sufficient leisure, interest, and resources for the society to prosper. It set a model that every state followed, although usually with a more popular base and state funding.[15] Archivist Elizabeth Kaplan argues the founding of a historical society begins an upward spiral with each advance legitimizing the next. Collections are gathered that support publication of documents and histories. These publications in turn give the society and its topic legitimacy and authenticity. The process creates a sense of identity and belonging.[16] The builders of state historical societies and archives in the late 19th and early 20th century were more than antiquarians—they had the mission of creating as well as preserving and disseminating the collective memories of their communities. The largest and most professional collections were built at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison by Lyman Draper (1852–1887) and Reuben Gold Thwaites (1887–1913). Their massive collection of books and documents became (and remain) a major scholarly resource for the graduate program in history at the University of Wisconsin.[17] Thwaites disseminated materials nationally through his edited series, especially Jesuit Relations' in 73 volumes, Early Western Travels in 32 volumes, and Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in eight volumes, among others.

At the national level, major efforts to collect and publish important documents from the revolutionary era were undertaken by Jonathan Elliott (1784–1846), Jared Sparks (1789–1866), Peter Force (1790–1868) and other editors.[18]

The military history of the Civil War especially fascinated Americans, and the War Department compiled and published a massive collection of original documents that continues to be heavily used by scholars.[19] The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion appeared in 128 large volumes published between 1881 and 1901. It included military and naval records from both sides, as well as important documents from state and national governments.[20]

Colonial and Revolution

Imperial School

While most historians saw the colonial era as a prelude to the Revolution, by the 1890s the "Imperial School" was interpreting it as an expression of the British Empire. The leaders included Herbert L. Osgood, George Louis Beer, Charles M. Andrews and Lawrence Henry Gipson. Andrews, based at Yale, was the most influential.[21] They took a highly favorable view of the benefits achieved by the economic integration of the Empire.[22] The school practically died out by 1940, but Gipson published his fifteen-volume history of The British Empire Before the American Revolution (1936–70) and won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize in History.[23][24]

Progressive historians

Progressive historians such as Carl L. Becker, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., Vernon L. Parrington, and Charles A. Beard downplayed the Patriot grievances of the 1760s and 1770s as rhetorical exercises that covered the greed of smugglers and merchants who wanted to avoid taxes. Schlesinger argued the false propaganda was effective: "The stigmatizing of British policy as 'tyranny,' 'oppression' and 'slavery, had little or no objective reality, at least prior to the Intolerable Acts but ceaseless repetition of the charge kept emotions at fever pitch."[25] The Progressive interpretation was dominant before 1960, as historians downplayed rhetoric as superficial and looked for economic motivations.[26]


In the 1960s and 1970s, a new interpretation emerged that emphasized the primacy of ideas as motivating forces in history (rather than material self-interest). Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood from Harvard formed the "Cambridge School"; at Washington University the "St. Louis School" was led by J.G.A. Pocock. They emphasized slightly different approaches to republicanism.[27]

The new discovery was that the colonial intellectual and political leaders in the 1760s and 1770s closely read history to compare governments and their effectiveness of rule.[28] They were especially concerned with the history of liberty in England, and the rights Englishmen, which they claimed were the proper heritage of the colonists. These intellectuals were especially influenced by Britain's "country party" (which opposed the Court Party that actually held power). Country party relied heavily on the classical republicanism of Roman heritage; it celebrated the ideals of duty and virtuous citizenship in a republic. It drew heavily on ancient Greek city-state and Roman republican examples.[29] The Country party roundly denounced the corruption surrounding the "court" party in London centering on the royal court. This approach produced a political ideology Americans called "republicanism", which was widespread in America.by 1775.[30] "Republicanism was the distinctive political consciousness of the entire Revolutionary generation."[31] J.G.A. Pocock explained the intellectual sources in America:[32]

The Whig canon and the neo-Harringtonians, John Milton, James Harrington and Sidney, Trenchard, Gordon and Bolingbroke, together with the Greek, Roman, and Renaissance masters of the tradition as far as Montesquieu, formed the authoritative literature of this culture; and its values and concepts were those with which we have grown familiar: a civic and patriot ideal in which the personality was founded in property, perfected in citizenship but perpetually threatened by corruption; government figuring paradoxically as the principal source of corruption and operating through such means as patronage, faction, standing armies (opposed to the ideal of the militia); established churches (opposed to the Puritan and deist modes of American religion); and the promotion of a monied interest—though the formulation of this last concept was somewhat hindered by the keen desire for readily available paper credit common in colonies of settlement.

Revolutionary Republicanism was centered on limiting corruption and greed. Virtue was of the utmost importance for citizens and representatives. Revolutionaries took a lesson from ancient Rome, they knew it was necessary to avoid the luxury that had destroyed the Empire.[33] A virtuous citizen was one that ignored monetary compensation and made a commitment to resist and eradicate corruption. The Republic was sacred; therefore it is necessary to served the state in a truly representative way, ignoring self-interest and individual will. Republicanism required the service of those who were willing to give up their own interests for a common good. According to Bernard Bailyn, "The preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on wielders of power and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people." Virtuous citizens needed to be strong defenders of liberty and challenge the corruption and greed in government. The duty of the virtuous citizen become a foundation for the American Revolution.[34]

Atlantic history

Since the 1980s a major trend has been to locate the colonial and revolutionary eras in the wider context of Atlantic history, with emphasis on the multiple interactions among the Americas, Europe and Africa.[35] Leading promoters include Bernard Bailyn at Harvard,[36] and Jack P. Greene at Johns Hopkins University.[37]

Turnerian School

Main article: Frontier Thesis
Frederick Jackson Turner

The Frontier Thesis or Turner Thesis, is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that the origin of the distinctive egalitarian, democratic, aggressive, and innovative features of the American character has been the American frontier experience. He stressed the process—the moving frontier line—and the impact it had on pioneers going through the process. In the thesis, the frontier established liberty by releasing Americans from European mind-sets and ending prior customs of the 19th century.[38] The Turner thesis came under attack from the "New Western Historians" after 1970 who wanted to limit western history to the western states, with a special emphasis on the 20th century, women and minorities.[39]

Beardian School

The Beardians were led by Charles A. Beard (1874–1948), who wrote hundreds of monographs, textbooks and interpretive studies in both history and political science. The most controversial was An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913), which indicated that the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution in 1787 were motivated more by the fate of financial investments than anything idealistic. He wrote:

The overwhelming majority of members, at least five-sixths, were immediately, directly, and personally interested in the outcome of their labors at Philadelphia."[40]

Beard's most influential book, written with his wife Mary Beard, was the wide-ranging and bestselling The Rise of American Civilization (1927). It had a major influence on a generation of American historians. Prominent Beardian historians included C. Vann Woodward, Howard K. Beale, Fred Harvey Harrington, Jackson Turner Main, and Richard Hofstadter (in his early years)[41] Similar to Beard in his economic interpretation, and almost as influential in the 1930s and 1940s was literary scholar Vernon Louis Parrington.[42]

Beard was famous as a political liberal, but he strenuously opposed American entry into World War II, for which he blamed Franklin D. Roosevelt more than Japan or Germany. This isolationist stance destroyed his reputation among scholars. By about 1960 they also abandoned his materialistic model of class conflict. Richard Hofstadter concluded in 1968:

Today Beard's reputation stands like an imposing ruin in the landscape of American historiography. What was once the grandest house in the province is now a ravaged survival.[43]

However the New Left in the 1960s adopted a neo-Beardian model, as expressed at the University of Wisconsin by a number of scholars, most notably William Appleman Williams in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959). The idea was that material advantage, especially foreign markets for surplus goods, was more of a motivating force in foreign affairs than was spreading liberty to the world.[44]

Slavery and black history

Wes Brady, ex-slave, Marshall, Texas, 1937. This photograph was taken as part of the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narrative Collection.

The history of slavery originally was the history of the government's laws and policies toward slavery, and the political debates about it. Black history was a specially promoted very largely at predominantly black colleges. The situation changed dramatically with the coming of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Attention shifted to the enslaved humans, the free blacks, and the struggles of the black community against adversity.[45]

Peter Kolchin described the state of historiography in the early 20th century as follows:

During the first half of the twentieth century, a major component of this approach was often simply racism, manifest in the belief that blacks were, at best, imitative of whites. Thus Ulrich B. Phillips, the era's most celebrated and influential expert on slavery, combined a sophisticated portrait of the white planters' life and behavior with crude passing generalizations about the life and behavior of their black slaves.[46]

Historians James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton described Phillips' mindset, methodology and influence:

His portrayal of blacks as passive, inferior people, whose African origins made them uncivilized, seemed to provide historical evidence for the theories of racial inferiority that supported racial segregation. Drawing evidence exclusively from plantation records, letters, southern newspapers, and other sources reflecting the slaveholder's point of view, Phillips depicted slave masters who provided for the welfare of their slaves and contended that true affection existed between master and slave.[47]

The racist attitude concerning slaves carried over into the historiography of the Dunning School of Reconstruction era history, which dominated in the early 20th century. Writing in 2005, the historian Eric Foner states:

Their account of the era rested, as one member of the Dunning school put it, on the assumption of “negro incapacity.” Finding it impossible to believe that blacks could ever be independent actors on the stage of history, with their own aspirations and motivations, Dunning et al. portrayed African Americans either as “children”, ignorant dupes manipulated by unscrupulous whites, or as savages, their primal passions unleashed by the end of slavery.[48]

Beginning in the 1930s and 1940s, historiography moved away from the “overt” racism of the Phillips era. Historians still emphasized the slave as an object. Whereas Phillips presented the slave as the object of benign attention by the owners, historians such as Kenneth Stampp emphasized the mistreatment and abuse of the slave.[49]

In the portrayal of the slave as victim, the historian Stanley M. Elkins in his 1959 work “Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life” compared the effects of United States slavery to that resulting from the brutality of the Nazi concentration camps. He stated the institution destroyed the will of the slave, creating an “emasculated, docile Sambo” who identified totally with the owner. Elkins' thesis was challenged by historians. Gradually historians recognized that in addition to the effects of the owner-slave relationship, slaves did not live in a “totally closed environment but rather in one that permitted the emergence of enormous variety and allowed slaves to pursue important relationships with persons other than their master, including those to be found in their families, churches and communities.”

Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman in the 1970s, through their work Time on the Cross, portrayed slaves as having internalized the Protestant work ethic of their owners.[50] In portraying the more benign version of slavery, they also argue in their 1974 book that the material conditions under which the slaves lived and worked compared favorably to those of free workers in the agriculture and industry of the time. (This was also an argument of Southerners during the 19th century.)

In the 1970s and 1980s, historians made use of archaeological records, black folklore, and statistical data to describe a much more detailed and nuanced picture of slave life. Relying also on 19th-century autobiographies of ex-slaves (known as slave narratives) and the WPA Slave Narrative Collection, a set of interviews conducted with former slave interviews in the 1930s by the Federal Writers' Project of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, historians described slavery as the slaves experienced it. Far from slaves' being strictly victims or content, historians showed slaves as both resilient and autonomous in many of their activities. Despite their exercise of autonomy and their efforts to make a life within slavery, current historians recognize the precariousness of the slave's situation. Slave children quickly learned that they were subject to the direction of both their parents and their owners. They saw their parents disciplined just as they came to realize that they also could be physically or verbally abused by their owners. Historians writing during this era include John Blassingame (Slave Community), Eugene Genovese (Roll, Jordan, Roll), Leslie Howard Owens (This Species of Property), and Herbert Gutman (The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom).[51]

Important work on slavery has continued; for instance, in 2003 Steven Hahn published the Pulitzer Prize-winning account, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, which examined how slaves built community and political understanding while enslaved, so they quickly began to form new associations and institutions when emancipated, including black churches separate from white control. In 2010, Robert E. Wright published a model that explains why slavery was more prevalent in some areas than others (e.g. southern than northern Delaware) and why some firms (individuals, corporations, plantation owners) chose slave labor while others used wage, indentured, or family labor instead.[52]

Civil War

The Civil War has generated an unusually large historiography. In terms of controversy, historians have long debated the causes of the war, and the relative importance given to nationalism and sectionalism, slavery, and economic issues. Nationalism dominated historiography from the late 19th century and the 1920s, especially as reflected in the work of James Ford Rhodes. In the 1920s, the Beardian school Identified an inevitable conflict between the plantation-based South and the industrial Northeast. When the agrarian Midwest sided with the Northeast, war resulted. In the 1930s, numerous arguments were made that the war was not inevitable, that was caused by a failure of the political system to reach a compromise.[53]

Since the 1960s, the emphasis has been very largely on slavery as the cause of the Civil War, with the anti-slavery element in the South committed to blocking the expansion of the slave system because it violated the rights of free white farmers and workers. Southerners responded to this as an intolerable attack on their honor, their economic needs for expansion, and the constitutional states' rights.[54]

Lost Cause of the Confederacy

The Lost Cause is a set of historical beliefs, strongest in the white South, which endorses the virtues of the ante-bellum South and embodied a view of the Civil War as an honorable struggle to maintain those virtues while downplaying the actual role of slavery.[55] The Lost Cause was widely taught in schools across the South. In the late 19th century became a key part of the reconciliation process between North and South around 1900, thereby reuniting the white South with the mainstream national interest. The Lost Cause became the main way that White Southerners commemorated the war. The United Daughters of the Confederacy by 1900 became the major organization promoting the Lost Cause. Historian Caroline E. Janney states:

Providing a sense of relief to white Southerners who feared being dishonored by defeat, the Lost Cause was largely accepted in the years following the war by white Americans who found it to be a useful tool in reconciling North and South.[56] The Lost Cause belief has several historically inaccurate elements. These include claiming that the reason the Confederacy started the Civil War was to defend state's rights rather than to preserve slavery, or claiming that slavery was benevolent, rather than cruel.

Cold War

John Lewis Gaddis speaks to U.S. Naval War College (NWC) faculty in 2012

As soon as the "Cold War" began about 1947 the origins of the conflict between the Soviet Union and the West became a source of heated controversy among scholars and politicians.[57] In particular, historians have sharply disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of Soviet-U.S. relations after the Second World War; and whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable, or could have been avoided.. Historians have also disagreed on what exactly the Cold War was, what the sources of the conflict were, and how to disentangle patterns of action and reaction between the two sides.[58] With the opening of the archives in Moscow and Eastern Europe after 1990, most of the pressing issues have been resolved.

The "orthodox" school dominated American historiography from the 1940s until it was challenged by New Left historians in the 1960s. It places the responsibility for the Cold War on the Soviet Union and its expansion into Eastern Europe. Thomas A. Bailey, for example, argued in his 1950 America Faces Russia that the breakdown of postwar peace was the result of Soviet expansionism in the immediate postwar years. Bailey argued Stalin violated promises he had made at Yalta, imposed Soviet-dominated regimes on unwilling Eastern European populations, and conspired to spread communism throughout the world. America responded by drawing the line against Soviet aggression with the Truman Doctrine, and the Marshall Plan.

The "revisionist" school, originally formed at the University of Wisconsin by William Appleman Williams, and was reflected in his The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959). Williams suggested America was just as bad as the Soviets because it had always been an empire-building nation, and forced capitalism upon unwilling nations. Revisionists emphasized Soviet weaknesses after 1945, said it only wanted a security zone, and was mostly responding to American provocations.[59]

The seminal "post-revisionist" accounts are by John Lewis Gaddis, starting with his The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947 (1972) and continuing through his study of George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011). Gaddis argued that then neither side bore sole responsibility," as he emphasized the constraints imposed on American policymakers by domestic politics. Gaddis criticized revisionist scholars, particularly Williams, for failing to understand the role of Soviet policy in the origins of the Cold War.[60] Ernest May concluded in 1984, "The United States and the Soviet Union were doomed to be antagonists.... There probably was never any real possibility that the post-1945 relationship could be anything but hostility verging on conflict... Traditions, belief systems, propinquity, and convenience ... all combined to stimulate antagonism, and almost no factor operated in either country to hold it back."[61]

Social history

Main article: Social history

Social history, often called the new social history, is the history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. It includes topics like demography, women, family, and education. It was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments. In two decades from 1975 to 1995, the proportion of professors of history in American universities identifying with social history rose from 31% to 41%, while the proportion of political historians fell from 40% to 30%.[62]

The Social Science History Association, formed in 1976, brings together scholars from numerous disciplines interested in social history and publishes Social Science History quarterly.[63] The field is also the specialty of the Journal of Social History, edited since 1967 by Peter Stearns[64] It covers such topics as gender relations; race in American history; the history of personal relationships; consumerism; sexuality; the social history of politics; crime and punishment, and history of the senses. Most of the major historical journals have coverage as well.

Social history was practiced by local historians as well as scholars, especially the frontier historians who followed Frederick Jackson Turner, as well as urban historians who followed Arthur Schlesinger, Sr..[65] The "new" social history of the 1960s introduced demographic and quantitative techniques. However, after 1990 social history was increasingly challenged by cultural history, which emphasizes language and the importance of beliefs and assumptions and their causal role in group behavior.[66]

Women's history

Women's history (and closely related topics in gender history) have become a major field since the 1970s.[67][68]

The field had been almost totally neglected in academic history departments before 1970. Apart from individual women, working largely on their own, the first organized systematic efforts to develop women's history came from the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in the early 20th century. It coordinated efforts across the South to tell the story of the women on the Confederate home front, while the male historians spent their time with battles and generals. The women emphasized female activism, initiative, and leadership. They reported that when all the men left for war, the women took command, found ersatz and substitute foods, rediscovered their old traditional skills with the spinning wheel when factory cloth became unavailable, and ran all the farm or plantation operations. They faced danger without having menfolk in the traditional role of their protectors.[69] Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall argues that the UDC was a powerful promoter of women's history:

UDC leaders were determined to assert women's cultural authority over virtually every representation of the region's past. This they did by lobbying for state archives and museums, national historic sites, and historic highways; compiling genealogies; interviewing former soldiers; writing history textbooks; and erecting monuments, which now moved triumphantly from cemeteries into town centers. More than half a century before women's history and public history emerged as fields of inquiry and action, the UDC, with other women's associations, strove to etch women's accomplishments into the historical record and to take history to the people, from the nursery and the fireside to the schoolhouse and the public square.[70]

The work of women scholars was ignored by the heavily male-dominated history profession until the 1960s, when the first breakthroughs came.[71] The field of women's history exploded dramatically after 1970, along with the growth of the new social history and the acceptance of women into graduate programs in history departments. An important development is to integrate women into the history of race and slavery. A pioneer effort was Deborah Gray White's Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985), which helped to open up analysis of race, slavery, abolitionism and feminism, as well as resistance, power, and activism, and themes of violence, sexualities, and the body.[72] A major trend in recent years has been to emphasize a global perspective.[73]

Urban history

Main article: Urban history

Urban history has long been practiced by amateurs who from the late 19th century have written detailed histories of their own cities. Academic interest began with Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. at Harvard in the 1920s, and his successor Oscar Handlin. The "new urban history" emerged in the 1960s as a branch of Social history seeking to understand the "city as process" and, through quantitative methods, to learn more about the inarticulate masses in the cities, as opposed to the mayors and elites. Much of the attention is devoted to individual behavior, and how the intermingling of classes and ethnic groups operated inside a particular city. Smaller cities are much easier to handle when it comes to tracking a sample of individuals over ten or 20 years.

Common themes include the social and political changes, examinations of class formation, and racial/ethnic tensions.[74] A major early study was Stephan Thernstrom's Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (1964), which used census records to study Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1850-1880. A seminal, landmark book, it sparked interest in the 1960s and 1970s in quantitative methods, census sources, "bottom-up" history, and the measurement of upward social mobility by different ethnic groups.[75]

Rather than being strictly areas of geographical segmentation, spatial patterns and concepts of place reveal the struggles for power of various social groups, including gender, class, race, and ethnic identity. The spatial patterns of residential and business areas give individual cities their distinct identities and, considering the social aspects attendant to the patterns, create a more complete picture of how those cities evolved, shaping the lives of their citizens.[76] Recent techniques include the use of historical GIS data.[77]


The great majority of leading scholars have been teachers at universities and colleges. However, professionalization and the academic advancement system gives priority to graduate-level research and publication, and to the teaching of advanced graduate students. Issues regarding the teaching at the undergraduate level or below have been promoted by the associations, but have not become main themes.[78]

American studies was seldom taught in Europe or Asia before the Second World War. Since then, American studies has had a limited appeal and typically involves a combination of American literature and some history. Europe's approach has been highly sensitive to the changes in the political climate.[79][80]

Prominent historians working in the U.S.

Historians born before 1900

Historians born in the 20th century

American historians working in U.S. on non-U.S. topics

Research and teaching history in the United States has, of course, included the history of Europe and the rest of the world as well. So many topics are covered that is possible only to list some of the outstanding scholars.

Notes and references

  1. James J. Sheehan, "The AHA and its Publics - Part I." Perspectives 2005 43(2): 5-7. online
  2. Kirkendall, ed. (2011)
  3. "OAH Treasurer’s Report, Fiscal Year, 2009", Robert Griffith, OAH Treasurer, February 8, 2010 http://www.oah.org/publications/reports/treasurer09.pdf
  4. Michael Kraus and Davis D. Joyce, The Writing of American History (3rd ed. 1990) ch 3-4
  5. William A. Foran, "John Marshall as a Historian," American Historical Review 43#1 (1937), pp. 51-64 in JSTOR
  6. Lawrence J. Friedman and Arthur H. Shaffer, "Mercy Otis Warren and the Politics of Historical Nationalism," New England Quarterly 48#2 (1975), pp. 194-215 in JSTOR
  7. Peter C. Messer, "From a Revolutionary History to a History of Revolution: David Ramsay and the American Revolution," Journal of the Early Republic 2002 22(2): 205-233. Jstor
  8. Karen O'Brien, "David Ramsay and the Delayed Americanization of American History." Early American Literature 1994 29(1): 1-18. ISSN 0012-8163
  9. Harvey Wish, The American Historian: A Social-intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past (1960) ch 4 online
  10. Harvey Wish, The American Historian: A Social-intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past (1960) ch 5 online
  11. See for online editions
  12. George Athan Billias, "George Bancroft: Master Historian," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 111(2): 507-528. 2001
  13. N. H. Dawes, and F. T. Nichols, "Revaluing George Bancroft," New England Quarterly, 6#2 (1933), pp. 278-293 in JSTOR
  14. Michael Kraus, "George Bancroft 1834-1934," New England Quarterly, 7#4 (1934), pp. 662-686 in JSTOR
  15. W. D. Aeschbacher, "Historical Organization On The Great Plains," North Dakota History, 1967, 34#1 pp 93-104
  16. Elizabeth Kaplan, "We Are What We Collect, We Collect What We Are: Archives and the Construction of Identity," American Archivist (2000) 63:126-51 in JSTOR
  17. Amanda Laugesen, "Keeper of Histories: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library and Its Cultural Work, 1860-1910," Libraries & Culture, Winter 2004, 39#1 pp 13-35,
  18. Michael Kraus, Writing of American History (2nd ed. 1953), pp 89-103, 108-14
  19. Harold E. Mahan, "The Arsenal of History: The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion," Civil War History, March 1983, 29#1 pp 5-27
  20. Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds. The memory of the Civil War in American culture (2004) p 21-22
  21. Richard Johnson, "Charles McLean Andrews and the Invention of American Colonial History," William and Mary Quarterly 43 (1986): 519-41. in JSTOR
  22. Ian Tyrrell, "Making Nations/Making States: American Historians in the Context of Empire," Journal of American History, 86#3 (1999), pp. 1015-1044 in JSTOR
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  25. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude To Independence The Newspaper War On Britain 1764 1776 (1957) p. 34
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  31. Robert Kelley, "Ideology and Political Culture from Jefferson to Nixon," American Historical Review, 82 (June 1977), 536
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  34. Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967)
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  36. Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (2005) online excerpts
  37. Jack P. Greene, and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (2009)
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  41. Ellen Nore, Charles A. Beard: An Intellectual Biography (1983).
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  43. Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians (1968), p. 344
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  47. James Oliver Horton; Lois E. Horton (2006). Slavery and the Making of America. Oxford University Press. p. 8.
  48. Eric Foner (2013). Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Knopf Doubleday. p. xxii.
  49. Kolchin p. 135. David and Temin p. 741. The latter authors wrote, “The vantage point correspondingly shifted from that of the master to that of his slave. The reversal culminated in Kenneth M. Stampp's ‘The Peculiar Institution’ (1956), which rejected both the characterization of blacks as a biologically and culturally inferior, childlike people, and the depiction of the white planters as paternal Cavaliers coping with a vexing social problem that was not of their own making.”
  50. Kolchin p. 136
  51. Kolchin pp. 137–143. Horton and Horton p. 9
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  55. Gallagher (2000) p. 1. Gallagher wrote:
    The architects of the Lost Cause acted from various motives. They collectively sought to justify their own actions and allow themselves and other former Confederates to find something positive in all-encompassing failure. They also wanted to provide their children and future generations of white Southerners with a 'correct' narrative of the war.
  56. Caroline E. Janney, "The Lost Cause." Encyclopedia Virginia (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2009) accessed 26 July 2015
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  58. Fred Halliday, "Cold War" in The Oxford Companion to the Politics of the World (2001), page 2e.
  59. Robert H. Ferrell, Harry S. Truman and the Cold War Revisionists (2006)
  60. Jonathan Nashel, "Cold War (1945–91): Changing Interpretations," in The Oxford Companion to American Military History ed. by John Whiteclay Chambers II, (1999)
  61. (Ernest May, "The Cold War," in The Making of America's Soviet Policy, ed. Joseph S. Nye, Jr. (1984), p. 204.
  62. Diplomatic dropped from 5% to 3%, economic history from 7% to 5%, and cultural history grew from 14% to 16%. Based on full-time professors in U.S. history departments. Stephen H. Haber, David M. Kennedy, and Stephen D. Krasner, "Brothers under the Skin: Diplomatic History and International Relations," International Security, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Summer, 1997), pp. 34-43 at p. 4 2; online at JSTOR
  63. See the SSHA website
  64. . See Journal of Social History
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  66. Lynn Hunt and Victoria Bonnell, eds., Beyond the Cultural Turn (1999).
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  74. Stephan Thernstrom and Richard Sennett, eds. Nineteenth-century Cities: Essays in the New Urban History (1970)
  75. Michael Frisch, "Poverty and Progress: A Paradoxical Legacy," Social Science History, Spring 1986, Vol. 10 Issue 1, pp 15-22
  76. James Connolly, "Bringing the City Back in: Space and Place in the Urban History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era," Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, (2002) 1#3 pp 258-278.
  77. Colin Gordon, "Lost in space, or confessions of an accidental geographer,"International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing (2011) 5#1 pp 1-22
  78. Richard S. Kirkendall, ed., The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History (2011)
  79. Trevor Burnard, et al. "Teaching in Europe and Researching in the United States." American Historical Review 119#3 (2014): 771-779. online
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