Ohio History Journal

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PROCEEDINGS                           219




Among the multiple tendencies which inspire historians of every

variety in our day, one of the strongest is a synthetic, or comparative study

of history. Although national histories are still being written in all the

countries of western society, there is a keen consciousness everywhere

that national history in its isolation does not constitute an intelligible field

of historical study. Comparative procedure and synthesis provide the only

relatively objective criteria for historical judgments, and periodization is

no longer the bugbear it once was, but has, on the contrary, become a

sharp tool which enables the historian to penetrate to profounder depths

than the dogmatic supporter of the principle of continuity. Every country

has its synthetic historians from the Englishman, Arnold Toynbee, who is

attempting it alone and single-handed, to the numerous French, American

and German co-operative enterprises. So much are we impressed with the

necessity of synthesis, that even our minute specialized investigations are

inspired by an ultimate aim at synthesis. And yet it still remains true,

that all further progress in the study of history as such, lies along the

lines of plowing up fresh ground in the multiple branches of specialized

history; the history of diplomacy and political parties, the history of mili-

tary organization and strategy, constitutional, legal, economic and admin-

istrative history, church history in all its branches, the history of philos-

ophy and the natural and social sciences and the history of art. Today

every sector of culture and civilization has its special branch of history

with its own special set of principles. Taking them all together it would

appear that the controversy of cultural versus political history has ended

in a complete victory of cultural history. It is on this point that I wish

to make a few comments.

There is abroad a curious notion that cultural and political history

are opposites. This I cannot persuade myself to be the case. If a real

and not a factitious synthesis of the various branches of history is possible

at all, I suggest that cultural history is at its best when it becomes an

integral part of political history. The most felicitous economic historians

have been those who, like Leonard Woolf in his Empire and Commerce in

Africa, have recognized the interdependence of politics and economics, and

have tapped economic problems, described economic institutions with a view

to the conditioning factor of politics. While I do think that economists

have written the best economic histories, a pure economic history that

emphasizes exclusively economic points of view is a contradiction in terms.

This is also true of the other branches of cultural history. A historiography

that ignores the factor of politics no longer fulfills its mission. If it is

possible to speak of a triumph of cultural history, it is only because the

political historian has incorporated it as a necessary and integral part of

his field of study. The old controversy of Kulturgeschichte versus political

history is no longer an issue in our day. A real and genuine synthesis is

possible today only when the historian gathers his material around the cen-

tral trunk of the political life of nations and peoples, political life, to be sure,

conceived in the widest possible sense. But if the State in its new and

expanded meaning still remains the center of the historian's interest, he

reaches out in all directions into areas that have either a direct or an

indirect relation to political life. Even those who affect to be cultural

1 Text of an address delivered at the joint session of the Ohio State Archaeological

and Historical Society and the Ohio Academy of History, Deshler-Wallick Hotel,

Friday, April 1, 1938.