Publication Date

May 1, 1998

We reprint below extracts from "The Study of History in Schools," a report presented in 1898 to the AHA by the "Committee of Seven" (Andrew McLaughlin, professor of American history at the University of Michigan, chair; Herbert B. Adams, AHA Secretary and professor of American and institutional history at Johns Hopkins University; George L. Fox, rector of the Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, Connecticut; Albert Bushnell Hart, professor of history at Harvard University; Charles H. Haskins, professor of institutional history at the University of Wisconsin; Lucy M. Salmon, professor of history at Vassar College; and H. Morse Stephens, professor of modern European history at Cornell University). The report was reprinted in the 1898 Annual Report of the American Historical Association (pages 427-564).

Before we began our work, it was plain that … there was no recognized consensus of opinion in the country at large, not one generally accepted judgment, not even one well-known point of agreement, which would serve as the beginning for a consideration of the place of history in the high school curriculum.

History cultivates the judgment by leading the pupil to see the relation between cause and effect as cause and effect appear in human affairs. The study of history gives training not only in acquiring facts but in arranging and systematizing them and in putting forth individual product. Power of gathering information is important, and this power the study of history cultivates; but power of using information is of greater importance, and this power too is developed by historical work.

We do not recommend a short course in general history because such a course necessitates one of two modes of treatment, neither of which is sound and reasonable. By one method energy is devoted to the dreary, and perhaps profitless, task of memorizing facts, dates, names of kings and queens, and the rise and fall of dynasties; there is no opportunity to see how facts arose or what they effected, or to study the material properly, or to see the events in simple form as one followed upon another, or to become acquainted with the historical method of handling definite concrete facts and drawing inferences from them …. By the second method pupils are led to deal with large and general ideas which are often quite beyond their comprehension—ideas which are general inferences drawn by the learned historian from a well-stored treasure-house of definite data; they are taught to accept unquestioningly broad generalizations, the foundations of which they cannot possibly examine, as they must do if they are to know how the historical student builds his inferences, or how one gains knowledge of the general truths of history. The first method is apt to heap meaningless data together…. If the second alternative be followed, all is order and system….

It seems wise to say that the greatest aim of education is to impress upon the learner a Sense of duty and responsibility, and an acquaintance with his human obligations; and that a manifest function of historical instruction in the school is to give the pupil a sense of duty as a responsible member of that organized society of which he is a part, and some appreciation of its principles and its fundamental character. In other words, while industrial and social phases of progress should by no means be slighted, it is an absolute necessity that a course in American history should aim to give a connected narrative of political events and to record the gradual upbuilding of institutions, the slow establishment of political ideals and practices.

One question [the committee] asked of selected principals was: "Are your teachers of history especially prepared for that work, as your teachers of languages or science are expected to be prepared?" To this question one-fourth frankly answered that they had no teachers of history who had been especially prepared. Another fourth put part of their history work into the hands of untrained teachers. Something more than half give no work except to those who have special preparation. The Middle and Western States have in this respect a great advantage over New England, where the idea that none but persons who know history can teach history seems slow of infiltration.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.