Ohio History Journal

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History in the study

and iin the schools*




Like so many college students in our time, we historians have been going

through an identity crisis of our own. Who are we? Where are we going?

Why do we do what we do? What is its purpose? Is it worth the trouble?

Why? And so on. And so on.

Most of us, to be sure, manage to avoid thinking about the rationale

of our subject most of the time. Our work is interesting. We are absorbed

in it. When we teach, we receive some stimulation from our students -- and

gain some satisfaction from the occasional student we seem to be able to

stimulate as well. When we write, we feel gratification when a job is care-

fully and interestingly done and a sense of accomplishment when our fellow

historians consider that our work is useful. Clearly enough, it is good and

proper that this should be so. But sometimes, I suspect, all of us -- and

not merely the philosophers of history -- all of us feel compelled to look

more closely, to ask why it is that scholars in other disciplines or educators

responsible for supervising broad programs of instruction are not as sure

as we are of the overriding importance of historical study. There are answers

-- and I think there are good answers -- but too many historians for too

long a time have simply squirmed uneasily when confronted by the various

challenges to their discipline.

This is of course nothing new. For about fifty years now, professional

historians in this country have felt compelled to justify themselves, a com-

pulsion that could hardly have occurred, one would suppose, to the



* A speech presented at the banquet on April 7, 1967 for the joint annual meetings of

the Ohio Historical Society, the Ohio Academy of History, the Ohio Association of

Historical Societies, and the Ohio Covered Bridge Committee.