Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12






Whitehill. (Boston: The Boston Athe-

naeum, 1962. Distributed by Harvard

University Press. xviii??593p.; index.


"For some years now historical-society

journals, one after another, have been

undergoing a transformation of format,

style, and content into imitation popular

magazines," declared the New-York His-

torical Society annual report for 1961.

Ohioans concerned with state and local

history will be interested, if not embar-

rassed, in a further quotation from the

report: "This phenomenon was punctu-

ated in 1961 by an abrupt termination of

the vigorous 70-year-old Ohio Historical

Quarterly to provide for another incre-

ment of periodical quasi-history--and this

despite the unanimous protests of the

Ohio Academy of History and published

regrets. . . in sister quarterlies. Such

sacrifice of scholarship to a supposed

popular predilection for costume-ball his-

tory reverses the long process by which

historical-society journals, including our

own, achieved their proper sphere of use-

fulness and influence" (p. 547).

The excerpt quoted above and, indeed,

the entire tone of Mr. Whitehill's ad-

mirably frank volume will, no doubt,

cause his book to be debated vigorously

in historical circles. The author quite

properly raises the core question as to

the essential nature of the historical so-

ciety--should it pander to a capricious

public, or should it devote itself to a

solid, scholarly career? The independent

society, Mr. Whitehill points out, is pri-

marily concerned with the advancement

of learning. The society supported in

whole or in part by public funds is con-

cerned not only with scholarship but also

with its wide dissemination. In short, the

latter, at times, must attempt to "sell"

its wares by a variety of techniques, which

may run the gamut from dainty teas to

public dinners at which buffalo stew is

served. This emphasis on "togetherness"

is beautifully illustrated in Chapter

Twenty-Three and its appropriate verse

from Zechariah: "And I said unto them,

If ye think good, give me my price; and

if not, forbear. So they weighed for my

price thirty pieces of silver." The State

Historical Society of Iowa makes much

of steamboat excursions on the Missis-

sippi, but its Iowa Journal of History, a

once distinguished periodical, has not

been printed for months.

Throughout the nation there is a belief

held by some that historical societies are

facing critical times. It is not uncommon

to hear that institutions are headed up by

individuals not trained as historians, that

journals are edited by persons lacking

professional, academic experience, that

hundreds of thousands of dollars are

being wasted literally on and by weak

and inadequate societies, especially on

the local level, but also on the state level,

and that societies are making no contribu-

tions to their communities. Mr. White-

hill's chapter, "The Organization Men,"

is provocative. One must not forget, how-