Ohio History Journal

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Amateur and

Professional History:

an observation


The gulf which has separated the professional from the amateur historian

is no newly eroded chasm. Ever since the scientific study of history was in-

troduced into our academic communities from Germany in the late 1870's,

the historian has universally held the hobbyist in Clio's vineyard in near

disdain. There has been little direct communication between the two

camps in spite of the fact that the professional is somewhat dependent

upon the productions of amateurs of past generations.

The field of good intentions has been littered with the carcasses of futile

seminars and symposia designed to bring the amateur more nearly into the

professional fold. One of the most recent of these exercises was sponsored

by the National Endowment for the Humanities and conducted by the

Office of State History of New York state on September 15 and 16, 1967.

Two hundred and twenty-five "local historians" assembled in Albany for

two full days of lectures and a panel. According to Dr. Louis L. Tucker,

assistant commissioner for state history, better known to Ohioans as the

former director of the Cincinnati Historical Society, there are some 1,100

local historians in New York state who are officially appointed by towns

and municipalities to serve as "bird dogs" for history. Their functions are

collecting, preserving and writing about local history, performing duties

similar in part to the county and municipal historical societies of Ohio.

The purposes of the recent New York Conference, Dr. Tucker relates,

were "to broaden the horizons of our local historians; to enable them

to understand better the methodology, value structure, and, yes, the per-

sonal convictions of outstanding scholars." It was indeed a battery of such

big guns which were rolled out to cow the 225 amateurs at Albany, only 20

percent of the total number of the state's official local historians. Clinton

Rossiter and Paul W. Gates of Cornell University, Princeton's Arthur S.

Link, author of some thirteen books, and others equally outstanding let

forth their rumbling salvos. The papers of the eight luminaries have been

published under the title, The Challenge of Local History (1968) by the

Office of State History of the State Education Department.

During the session but one local historian walked out. The wonder is

that more did not do so, for among the erudite and sweeping concepts

proffered by the experts for the enlightenment (or enrichment, as the con-

ference was titled) of the amateurs, there was but rarely a pertinent or use-

ful suggestion. Accustomed as they are to talking only to their students and