Annual address of the president of the American Historical Association, delivered at the annual meeting in Washington, D.C., December 28, 1889. From the Papers of the American Historical Association, vol. IV, no. 1 (1890), 39-65.

Recent Historical Work in the Colleges and Universities of Europe and America

During the last few years we have heard much of the tendency to give to all great and profound studies the historical form. The contributions of Darwin to natural history are, in a certain large sense, the result of a study of the history of nature carried on in a scientific spirit. Studies in machinery, in philosophy, in politics, in electricity even, are everywhere inclining to take on the same historical methods. In all branches of study it is apparently coming more and more to be seen that one’s chances of discovering important new truth are quite exactly in proportion to one’s knowledge of the truth that has already been discovered. So far as I remember, it was the French historian Thiers that first pointed out the significance of the historical spirit of the nineteenth century, as distinguished from the speculative spirit of the eighteenth. This difference, indicated nearly half a century ago, is now very generally recognized and understood.

There is another fact, however, that is not less worthy of attention. I refer to the extraordinary development of studies in history in the colleges and universities of the world during the last few years. This development has amounted to a veritable revolution. Every American at all familiar with college life in this country knows that great advances have here been made; but a very brief presentation will be enough to show, I think, that even greater progress has been made in many of the countries of the old world.

On this subject, as on many others, we are perhaps in some danger of confining our attention too closely to what is immediately about us. Our eyes are apt to rest with contentment on our material growth and our general financial prosperity; and, while indulging in this contemplative satisfaction, it is quite possible that we shall fail to see the greater advances which, in certain directions, are being made in the old world. It would probably be easy to show that notwithstanding all that spirit of enterprise of which we are justly proud as a national characteristic, there are many directions in which we have been far outstripped by what we have been accustomed to regard as the more sluggish peoples on the other side of the Atlantic. We are proud of the recent growth of some of our cities, as well as of some of our universities; but who can compare the municipal government of Berlin or Budapest with that of New York or Chicago, or the educational enterprise of Paris or Strasburg or Zurich with that of the most vigorous of our own universities, without a modest admission that, after all, we have vastly more to learn from them than they have to learn from us? And so perhaps it will be in regard to that branch of academic discipline which is of special interest to the American Historical Association. Be that as it may, I have thought that on this occasion it would not be inappropriate to call your attention to the great advances that have recently been made in the teaching of history in the colleges and universities of America and Europe.

In this presentation I shall purposely avoid limiting my inquiries to any specific number of years. The scope of the subject and the brevity of the hour compel me to deal sparingly with details and critical observations. My purpose will be satisfied, if I succeed in pointing out the most important characteristics of this general advance. It will be convenient to look first at the teaching of history in the United States, and then at the teaching of history in Europe.

It was nearly two centuries after the founding of Harvard College before the study of history in that institution had any standing whatever. So far as we can judge from the meagre information afforded, it was customary during the whole of that period to give an hour at eight o’clock on Saturday morning to the hearing of compositions and declamations, and to the reciting of history, ancient and modern. This bare statement is enough to show how impossible it was that the subject should make any very considerable impression. It was not until 1839 that the study of history in any American college was first encouraged with the endowment of a special chair. To that chair, the McLean professorship of ancient and modern history at Harvard, Jared Sparks was called. At Baltimore, Professor Sparks had made the acquaintance of Marshall, Story, John Quincy Adams, and others, and was already known as a successful student and writer of American history. Mr. Sparks’s work at Harvard, though not epoch-making or even very progressive in its character, was an improvement on what had been done before. In 1840 he published his edition of Smith’s lectures, and in the following year introduced the constitutional history of England. Though in that same year (1841) history and natural history were offered as elective studies, yet when Sparks became president of the college, in 1849, he attacked the elective system with so much vigor that no further advances could be made. This distinguished historian unquestionably gave an impulse to studies in American history, but he left the foundations and methods substantially as he had found them. Very few lectures on general history seem to have been given to relieve the aridity of Tytler, Keitley, and Schmidt, though some gain was experienced by the introduction of Sismondi and Smith. The small importance attached to this general work is shown in the fact that from 1853 to 1857 the entire field of history was intrusted to the instruction of a single tutor. Nor was there any very important change in method till after the accession of President Eliot in 1869. Up to 1870 Professor Torrey had for thirteen years done the entire work; but now it was a gain of great importance that ancient history was transferred to Professor Gurney, and mediæval and modern history to Professor Henry Adams. This enlargement of the force not only enabled the professors to give fuller and better instruction, but, more important still, it made possible the introduction of new and improved methods. The work of Professor Adams was not distinguished by any innovating name; but the volume of essays on Anglo-Saxon law abundantly shows that the spirit of original investigation, not altogether unworthy of a German university, had at length taken root in American soil. And it is gratifying to note that the work so well begun in 1870 by Professor Adams has since that date been carried forward in a similar spirit. The historical staff now consists of seven professors and teachers. The number of courses offered the past year was eighteen. There appears to be no very clearly defined seminary work, though connected with six of the courses opportunities are offered for something analogous to the methods of investigation that prevail in the seminaries of Germany and the cours pratique of France. It must be regarded as unfortunate that at Harvard, where so much excellent work appears to be done, no provision as yet has been made for the systematic publication of the results that are achieved. But it is no small triumph in behalf of historical studies, that within a single administration instruction in history has been brought at Harvard from its condition in 1869 to its condition at the present day.

Until within a very recent period the teaching of history at Yale was not very different from that which prevailed in the early days at Harvard. President Stiles taught a very little ecclesiastical history at the end of the last century, and Professor Kingsley imitated his modest example at the beginning of this. We find that in 1822, when the first course of studies was published, ancient history was taught in a way by means of the ancient historians, and by means of Adam’s “Roman Antiquities” as a text book. Tytler’s “General History” was taught during one term of the junior year, and the first volume of Kent’s “Commentaries” was this year introduced for two terms to the senior class. This course appears to have had little modification till the accession of President Woolsey in 1847.

Nor was the change during Woolsey’s administration a very radical one. The introduction of political philosophy of political science, and of international law was undoubtedly a very considerable advance. But these were not wholly within the domain of history. Graduates of Yale, not yet quite venerable, remember with little satisfaction the course of history which consisted chiefly of lessons learned verbatim et literatim from the dry pages of Pütz and Arnold. It was, as Professor Herbert B. Adams has said, in revolt against this juiceless and utterly disheartening method of instruction, that Professor Andrew D. White determined to make such a fresh and original departure in 1857 at the University of Michigan.

To the theological students at Yale, Professor George P. Fisher began in 1861 to give scholarly instruction in Church history, and for many years Dr. Leonard Bacon lectured to theological students on the history of the churches in America. But it was not until Professor A. M. Wheeler entered upon the duties of his chair in 1868 that the entire energies of one professor were required for the teaching of history, and it was not until nine years later that Professor Wheeler was relieved of the American history. Even after Professor Dexter began his work the courses appear to have been very largely confined to such text-books as Eliot’s “United States,” Lodge’s “American Colonies,” Johnston’s “American Politics,” and Von Hoist’s “Constitutional History.” Since 1887 Professor Dexter’s work of instruction has been taken by Professor George B. Adams. Besides a class in Roman history, taught by a tutor in Latin, eight courses of instruction of one, two, or three hours a week during the year are given by Professors Wheeler and Adams, and a two-year course on the constitutional and financial history of the United States is given by Professor Sumner. By Mr. Raynolds, an instructor, a course in comparative constitutional history is also now given. Two of these are for graduate students, and are conducted, more or less rigorously, in a manner to teach methods of original research.

Columbia College nothing of importance was done till the advent of Professor Lieber, in 1857, as professor of history and political science. And I know of nothing that more vividly shows the conception of what in those days a professor was expected to do, than the formal requirements of the trustees in regard to this professorship. By special vote of the board, the following subjects were assigned to the newly elected professor: modern history, political science, international law, civil law, and common law. It ought not, perhaps, to be regarded as very singular that after Dr. Lieber had staggered under this load from 1857 to 1865, President Barnard should report to the trustees as he did when he said: “It is quite doubtful whether modern history in the proper sense of the word, ought to occupy any considerable space in the teaching of our colleges. The subject,” continued he, “is so vast, and practically so exhaustless, that the little which can be taught in the few hours of class instruction amounts to but a small remove from absolute ignorance.” As the result of this suggestion; a committee was appointed “to consider the propriety of abolishing the professorship of history,” and, in accordance with their report, the duties of the professorship were added to those of the professor of philosophy and English literature. Professor Lieber was transferred to the School of Law. It was not until after ten years that this singularly unhappy policy was abandoned. But in 1876 the call of Professor John W. Burgess from Amherst College was to open a new era.

The School of Political Science was opened in 1880,under a plan of organization which gave assurance of good results; and yet, if one may be permitted with some hesitation to express such an opinion, it would seem that the productive efficiency of the school had been not a little hindered by the amount of class-room work exacted of the professors and students. It may well be doubted whether, during the two years immediately before the candidate comes up for Ph.D., more than ten, or, at most, twelve, hours a week can profitably be passed in the lecture-room. In spite of Euclid, it is sometimes true that a part is greater than the whole. The best of historical instruction is such work of investigation as can be carried on under judicious and inspiring guidance; but such investigation cannot be profitably made when the time and energies of the students are exhausted in the lecture-room. In this connection, moreover, it should not be forgotten that the Columbia School of Political Science is essentially what its name implies. During the three years of its course, the amount of history that finds a place in the curriculum is not very large.

It has been already stated that in 1857 Professor Andrew D. White carried to the University of Michigan an enthusiasm, born of a reactionary spirit against what may be called the Pütz and Arnold methods that then prevailed at Yale. Professor White also carried to his work the added enthusiasm of a student who had just returned from three years of study in the universities of France and Germany. This beginning of new methods at Michigan was eleven years before Professor Wheeler began his work at Yale, and thirteen years before the appointment of Professor Henry Adams at Harvard. And the inestimable service of Professor White during his five years at Michigan was the fact that at that early day, years before a similar impulse had been felt anywhere else in the country, the study of history was lifted to the very summit of prominence and influence among the studies of the college course. No one who was not on the spot can adequately realize the glow of enthusiasm with which this reaction was welcomed by the students of the university.

The work abandoned by Professor White, practically in 1863 and formally in 1867, was carried on by my myself, his successor, until 1885. Perhaps the most notable fact during that period was the introduction of the historical seminary in 1869. Observation in the seminaries of Leipzig and Berlin had convinced me that even advanced undergraduates could use the methods of the German seminary with great profit. My expectations were more than realized. At a little later period, a working library of nearly three thousand volumes was given by a friend of the department, and these books were made constantly accessible to students in the commodious seminary rooms of the new library building. Unfortunately there has been no publication fund by means of which papers of value could be given to the public. But the monographs of Professors Knight and Salmon, published by this Association in its first volume, are evidence of the quality of the work done. During the year 1888–89, the number of half year courses given by Professors Hudson and McLaughlin was eleven, the equivalent of five full year courses of lectures and one half year seminary course.

Cornell University was opened for students in 1868. Professor White, in coming from Michigan to the presidency, no doubt brought all his old fire of enthusiasm for historical teaching. But his interests now had to be divided and subdivided between the necessities of the various departments of the new university. The teaching of history, therefore, had to be very largely done by Professor Russell. This was continued till 1881, when Professor Moses Coit Tyler was called to the first professorship of American history established in the country. Professor Herbert Tuttle, engaged at first for a part of the year only, was in 1887 given a full chair of the history of political and municipal institutions and of international law. In 1888 Mr. George L. Burr, having previously acted as instructor, was placed as assistant professor in charge of the work in mediæval and modern history. Instruction in ancient history is given by Instructor Herbert E. Mills. During 1889–90 eleven full-year courses are given, each extending throughout the year, besides a course in palæography given for one term by Professor Burr. Of these full-year courses, three are seminaries, devoted to methods of original research.

Johns Hopkins University, devoted as it has been from the first very largely to graduate work, has offered unusual facilities for advanced instruction. Studies in history early assumed prominence. The plan of dividing the library into departmental sections and transferring the sections to the several departments, with some drawbacks, offered the unquestionable advantage of bringing the students into immediate daily contact with the great mass of literature with which they would have to deal. The graduate students of Johns Hopkins, therefore, are put into a kind of laboratory or workshop with all the working tools of the university immediately about them. And this may be said to be one of the two most prominent characteristics of the place. The other is the admirably developed system by means of which the world gets the benefit of whatever good thing is done. The staff of instruction is not large, four men doing both the graduate and undergraduate work. And yet so completely are the resources of the university at the service of the student, and so confident is the student that whatever good piece of work he may produce he will be able to place before the world in a manner to attract the attention it deserves, that the department of history, in spite of all rumored pecuniary distresses, has steadily grown until during the present year there are forty graduate students in history working with a view to the doctor’s degree.

I have thus passed rapidly over the advances of historical studies in those American institutions of university grade where the largest amount of work has been done. It would be an act of great injustice not to say that in many of the other colleges and universities of the land important advances have also been made. In several of them work of great excellence is done. It is but just to say that the methods employed in the great mass of these institutions are very different from those in vogue twenty-five years ago. In several of them there are now professors of history who received their training in the best methods of the old world. If the results of their instruction are not all that could be desired, the fault is in the plan of organization rather than in the methods of instruction.

That this brief review gives evidence of very considerable advancement cannot be denied. We shall see, however, before the end of our survey, that when we compare ourselves with others, we have no occasion for historical vanity. But I cannot turn from this part of my subject without indicating my judgment that the most important need of advanced historical instruction in this country at the present time is in each great educational centre such a publication fund as will enable the university to give to the world in academic form the results of thorough and advanced research. This is no doubt true in other fields as well as in history. But the technical journals afford an opportunity for the fruits of technical research, such as are not afforded to the historical student. The wisdom of such provisions at Johns Hopkins University has shown itself in growing measure with every advancing year. The proper methods of study are already flourishing with us, and the fruits of these labors, were the opportunity offered, would be forthcoming in measure to do credit to American scholarship.

Turning from America to Great Britain, we find in several of the universities almost absolutely no recognition of historical studies. History is still practically excluded from all the Scottish universities. At Aberdeen and St. Andrews it has not the slightest notice, and even at Edinburgh there is only a single course on constitutional history for students of law.

In England, however, great activity has recently come to be shown at the two great universities at Oxford and Cambridge. This activity is of surprisingly recent growth. With a view to educating public officials and diplomatists, a regius professorship was established at Cambridge by George I. with something of that scholastic liberality which was shown by the Georges in giving the great collection of historical books to the university library at Göttingen. The regius professorship of history at Cambridge, however, was practically a sinecure. Perhaps the most distinguished occupant of the chair during the first hundred years was the poet Gray. It was not till as late as 1869, the position was taken by Professor J. R. Seeley, that it became really important and began to exert an influence. But under the inspiration of this eminent writer and teacher, history forced itself into formal recognition as a discipline worthy of a place by the side of the classics and the mathematics.

After due consideration, a separate tripos was established for modern history. As in the triposes of the classics and the mathematics, three years are given to the course. In four of the seventeen colleges preparation was at once made for giving special lectures to prepare students for the university examinations. Such lectures are now given by Mr. Hammond at Trinity, Mr. Oscar Browning, and Mr. Prothero at Kings, Mr. Thornley at Trinity Hall, and Mr. Tanner at St. John’s.

To an American student unaccustomed to English ways, such a bare statement of facts conveys little impression. But to understand the full significance of these lectureships, two or three conditions must be borne in mind. The English college is scarcely more than a place of residence, each student procuring such instruction as he may desire, and in any manner he may choose. At the end of the necessary period the examinations are conducted not by the colleges, but by the university. The student, therefore, is practically at entire liberty to pursue his studies in private. He may hear lectures regularly, or he may prepare himself for the examinations with the help of a private coach. What we understand as the work of instruction, therefore, plays a far less prominent part in the English universities than in our own. The work of examinations plays a far greater part. The requirements for final examinations are planned and carried out with a rigor that I suppose is absolutely unknown in any other country.

The subjects on which the examinations for a degree are to be held, though varied to meet the wants of individual classes of students, are still somewhat limited in scope. The following are stated as the general requirements: English history, including that of Scotland, Ireland, and the colonies and dependencies; certain indicated parts of ancient, mediæval, and modern history; the principles of political economy and the theory of law; English constitutional law and English constitutional history; public international law, in connection with detailed study of certain celebrated treaties; and, finally, a thesis written on some one of ten proposed subjects.

During the three years, special efforts are made to accomplish two results. These are: first, to secure a knowledge of a great body of accepted facts and truths; and, secondly, by earnest personal thought to acquire the habit of what may be called an historical judgment as to the real significance of facts and events. Toward these two ends all of the very inspiring lectures of Professor Seeley seem to be directed. The lectures of the tutors appear also to have the same end in view. Accordingly, the examination papers are invariably directed very largely to the work of testing the thinking powers of the student. That the test is one of great severity may be known by a single glance at one of the examination papers. The final trial continues for five days, six hours a day, three hours in the forenoon and three in the afternoon. There are thus ten papers in ten successive half-days.1

The recent outcry in England against this system of examinations (which is carried into other subjects as well as into history) can hardly be considered as surprising. It may well be questioned whether an examination of this kind, put at the end of a three years’ course of study, is not adapted on the one hand to encourage, or at least to permit and condone, idleness during the first years of the course, and to break the health and the spirit of the student at the end.

It is noteworthy, also, that the tripos makes no provision for what may be called original work. There is no seminary work to be compared with that done in Germany and France, even if there is any that will compare favorably with the best in the United States. But, on the other hand, it may fairly be doubted whether there is anywhere else in the world a system that secures so general a knowledge of what may be called the great body of the accepted facts of history, and so discriminating a judgment concerning their bearing and their significance. The mere list of standard authors, of which an historical student of Cambridge or Oxford is expected to become complete master, is vastly greater than the number required of students either in America or in continental Europe.

At Oxford the methods are not essentially different from those at Cambridge The tripos in modern history was here established in 1870, five years before that provided for on the Cam It teas perhaps been even more successful. While at Cambridge there is now but one professor and five lecturers, at Oxford there are two professors and thirteen lecturers, and a programme of courses that reminds one of the array offered at one of the great universities in Germany. It is certain, however, that the instruction is more elemental in character. There are, moreover, no courses that as yet correspond in any very exact way with the German organizations for conducting original research, and the training of men in the art of historical investigation. But, when all such deductions are made, it cannot be considered as less than remarkable that in the old university of Oxford, where, before 1870, there was no organized course of history whatever, the study has met with such favor that staff of no less than fifteen professors and tutors is required to give the necessary instruction.

The subject ought not to be dismissed without the remark that within three or four years something akin to the German seminary has begun to secure a foothold. It is interesting also to note that this movement was the result of the efforts of an American student, the lamented Mr. Brearley, who went from one of the German universities to complete his studies at Oxford. But, as studies so conducted cannot well be made subsidiary to the examinations, it is doubtful whether any very considerable success is to be expected till the system of examinations is modified. It is chiefly for this reason that the experiment is likely to confine itself very largely to the holders of fellowships.

On turning to the continent of Europe one is embarrassed with the vastness of the subject, and the number of details that present themselves for consideration. It must suffice to give the briefest possible account of what is done in some of the smaller nationalities, and then a slightly fuller survey of recent advances in Germany and France.

At Leyden, Groningen, and Utrecht, the three state universities of Holland, the law requires that three branches of history hall be taught, namely general history, national history, and ancient history, the latter including especially the history and antiquities of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Although Leyden and Groningen have each two professors of history, and Utrecht one, still the work is carried on at great disadvantage, and is only elementary in character. At Amsterdam, which is not a state but a communal university, neither the arrangement nor the work is much better.

The peculiar organization of the Dutch universities has been unfavorable to historical progress. In these institutions five degrees of the rank of the doctorate are given, each one for a somewhat narrowly restricted course of study. These are: doctor of philosophy, doctor of classical literature, doctor of Netherlandish literature, doctor of German philology, and doctor of Semitic literature. In 1876 the universities unanimously asked for the establishment of the degree of doctor of historical literature. The request was denied; and this denial has generally been regarded as fatal to the advancement, in any large sense, of historical studies. In the state universities, therefore, history has a secondary place; and there is said to be no fit teaching, even for the training of teachers of history in the secondary schools. To this general weakness there is at Amsterdam one conspicuous exception. While here, as at the other universities, very little is done in the faculty of letters, in the faculty of theology a more generous course is provided for. Professor Moll has established what may, with some propriety, be called an historical school. The work is chiefly conducted as a seminary for the study of the ecclesiastical history of Holland. It is now undertaking to explore the religious life of Holland, from the advent of Christianity to the present day. Excellent work is done, and good historical scholars have been trained. Unfortunately for the teaching of history, however, the pupils trained in this school are, for the most part, destined for the pulpit instead of the teacher’s profession.

In Belgium somewhat more has been accomplished. Though the state has given little encouragement to the work, the universities have been fortunate in having a number of professors who, in spite of obstacles, were wise and zealous enough to organize and achieve considerable success. The universities of Belgium are four in number, two of them being state institutions, and two founded and supported by private enterprise. The state universities, those at Liège and Ghent, as well as the private institutions of the same general grade at Brussels and Louvain, have excluded all advanced studies in history from the courses leading to the doctorate. But, notwithstanding this fact, much has been done by the enterprise of some of the professors. Professor Borgnet, at Liège, was the pilot of this new work, though he was not able to conduct it very far. It was in 1852 that the normal school was detached from the university, or at least was made distinct from it, and was given an independent course, extending over three years. In the third of these years, a cours pratique, a kind of incipient seminary, was established. But secondary sources of information appear to have been the only ones much used. On the retirement of Professor Borgnet, in 1872, Professor Kurth undertook, with considerable success, to place thecours pratique on a footing more nearly analogous to that of the German seminary; and this was done amid great discouragements in the faculty of letters of the university itself. Professor Kurth had visited Leipzig, Berlin, and Bonn, in 1874, and had carefully observed German seminary methods. The result was a most creditable historical enterprise. In addition to his lectures, he organized a seminary, which consisted properly of a two years’ course, involving a section of juniors and a section of seniors. The classes were small, but the work done appears to have been, if not of the highest order of excellence, at least of entire respectability as original investigation. The scope of the work was confined chiefly to a study of the middle ages, including the study of palæography and the use of such manuscripts as existed in the university library.

But the importance of Professor Kurth’s work showed itself quite as much in its influence upon others as in the positive results his pupils achieved. In 1877–78 Professor Vanderkindere at Brussels organized a seminary on the German plan, and in 1879 a similar course was offered by Professor Philippson in the same university. This officer had already had important experience as professor at the university of Bonn, and his work at Brussels appears to have shown a high order of excellence from the very beginning. The first volume of the fruits of these studies in the seminaries of Vanderkindere and Philippson bears the imprint of 1889.

In 1880 Professor Paul Frédéricq began his work at Liège, where he remained till 1884, when his activities were transferred to Ghent. In both of these universities his seminaries have been conducted quite in accordance with the best methods of France and Germany. The Corpus Inquisitionis issued in 1889, a volume of more than six hundred pages, royal octavo, is the published fruit of the profound investigations of his class in the history of the Inquisition in the Low Countries.

It is unnecessary to go into detail in regard to history in the Belgian universities, further than to say that in spite of all governmental discouragements progress has steadily been made. During the present year the seminaries for advanced historical work in Belgium are no less than nine in number—one at Louvain, two each at Brussels and Liège, and four at Ghent. In closing what I have to say in regard to Belgium, I take the liberty of quoting from a letter recently received from Professor Frédéricq, in which he says: “En dehors de l’Allemagne et de la France, il me semble incontestable que les nouvelles méthodes historiques ont fait le plus de progrès en Belgique.”

It would probably be quite within bounds to say that no other country in the civilized world has made such remarkable advances in intellectual activity within the last twenty years as those which have been made in Italy. The unification of the state gave a great impulse to education in all its grades, as to every thing else in the way of national progress. Exactly contemporaneous with the unification and the transfer of the seat of government from Florence to Rome, was the establishment of the “Istituto degli Studi Superiori,” a kind of higher university for the training of university professors, analogous to the École normale supérieure of Paris. The eminent historian Villari was placed at the head of this new institute, and, taking graduates of the universities only as pupils, it began at once to make its power felt in the teaching of history, perhaps even more than in any other way. Requisite brevity will compel me to do nothing more than simply to point out a few of the different ways in which historical work in the universities of Italy has recently been advanced.

  1. Through the very extensive new excavations and explorations carried on in all parts of Italy, and conducted with far greater care and with far more scientific knowledge than ever before. This work has been inspired, and to a very large extent even organized, by Comparetti, the founder and editor of the new Italian journal devoted to epigraphy, himself probably the first of epigraphists, not even excepting Mommsen. Lanciani at Rome and other explorers of kindred spirit at Pompeii and elsewhere are giving us ancient history in the light of recent and important discoveries.
  2. The substitution in the universities of the modern scientific for the old rhetorical methods of instruction. The changes include the introduction of the German seminary, in all but its name. Candidates for degrees are now required to write and defend not simply a thesis, but a memoir of scientific importance, involving the results of investigations in original sources. Among the professors who have done most to encourage work of this kind may be mentioned Villari of the Institute at Florence, De Leva of Padua, Cipolla of Turin, De Blasiis of Naples, and Falletti of Palermo.
  3. The study of the history of the romance languages. This work, carried on as it is in a truly scientific spirit, has already thrown much light on some obscure and difficult questions in the history of the middle ages. The first great inspirer of this new activity was Professor Caix, who, one of the first great products of the Institute, died at an early age, greatly lamented. But the work has been carried on by others, among whom the most conspicuous are perhaps Pio Rajna of the Institute, Ascoli of Milan, Rénier of Turin, D’Ovidio of Naples, and Monaci of Rome.
  4. The study of Italian literary history. This branch of the work is not indeed so new as the others, but it is carried on in a new spirit and is achieving new results. The names most worthy of mention are Graf of Turin, D’Ancona of Pisa, Zumbini of Naples, Carducci (the greatest of living Italian poets) at Bologna, and Bartoli of the Institute, the author of the best history of Italian literature.
  5. And, finally, the scientific study of the laws and institution of the middle ages. Devoted especially to this great work are: Schupfer of Rome, Del Vecchio of the Institute, Del Giudice of Pavia, Brondileone of Palermo, and Gaudenzi of Bologna.

This great recent work in Italy ought not to be dismissed without at least calling attention incidentally to the fact that no other nation has such immense archives, and that these are now rapidly becoming accessible to all historical research. Those of Venice and Florence have long been known to be extraordinary; but every province now seems to have its historical commission, and these are now pouring forth from the press a flood of documents of no small importance.

In turning from Italy to Germany we come upon ground that is more familiar to American scholars. But even at this great resort of American aspiration and ambition we should be able, if there were time, to discover many things that would be of interest and of profit.

The modern scientific study of history everywhere has a tap-root running down into philology. It was F. A. Wolf who, at Halle, in the last century, established the philological seminary. He is, I suppose, entitled to the credit of forming the conception of bringing his advanced pupils together for an informal discussion of their work, in order that he might point out to them, in the familiarity of friendly intercourse, the best methods of conducting philological research. To this new method of instruction, the word seminar, or to use the Latin form, seminarium, was given. It was the idea of Wolf that Ranke adopted, when in 1830 he called together a few of his most advanced pupils for the prosecution of historical instruction in a similar spirit. To the teaching of history, the event was the beginning of a new epoch. About the great master were gathered such men as Sybel, Droysen, Haüsser, Giesebrecht, Duncker, Ad. Schmidt, Wattenbach, and others, all of whose names have since become associated with works of the very first importance. And from that day till more than fifty years later, when the sceptre fell from the dead hand of the great master, Germany could scarcely count a single historical teacher or even scholar of importance that had not been at least one semester under Ranke. It would be interesting to trace and to attempt to measure the influence and the power of this instruction on the development of the nation. How many thousands of Germans now in places of official responsibility have had their ideas shaped by the instruction thus provided!

Perhaps I may be pardoned for relating an incident that occurred one day in the winter of 1868, at the close of an exercise in Droysen’s seminary. The master said to me, as we were standing together on the steps of his house: “Three of us, as we left Ranke’s seminary, had been impressed with the idea that public opinion was going all wrong on the subject of the nature and the influence of the French Revolution, and we determined to do what we could to change that opinion and set it right. The fruit of this purpose,” continued he, “has been Haüsser’s ‘History of Germany from the Death of Frederick the Great to the Congress of Vienna,’ Sybel’s ‘History of the French Revolution,’ and my own ‘History of Prussian Politics.’” In connection with this striking saying of Droysen, it is interesting to note that this fundamental idea which was henceforth to permeate the instruction of these three great teachers has continued to be dominant in the leading chairs of historical instruction in Germany down to the present day. The ideas of v. Treitschke are sufficiently well known from his books. Those of Maurenbrecher were clearly enunciated in his inaugural address, in which he set forth the position that all true development in politics and national life must be an outgrowth of the past, must be strictly historical in its essential character; and consequently that revolution, which is a breaking away from the past, is unhistorical and never justifiable.2 This statement in its completeness, however large a grain of truth it may have, seems about as defensible as would be the assertion that surgery is a direct and abnormal interference with the natural laws of physical development, and therefore is never to be resorted to. But no one can deny that such instruction has exerted prodigious power on the development of Germany and the formation of public opinion.

The seminary instituted by Ranke was the parent of a numerous progeny. Seminaries sprung up in all the universities, but for a little more than twenty-five years they were left to individual support. It was to v. Sybel, at Munich, that the credit belonged of persuading the Bavarian government to give to the seminary an independent subsidy. The same method of support was transferred to Bonn by v. Sybel in 1861. The next step was by v. Noorden, who successively at Greifswald, Tübingen, Bonn, and Leipzig, showed such remarkable power as a teacher that he was able to induce the government in 1877 to set up the great seminary at Leipzig, and still further to enlarge and endow it in 1880.

As a means of showing the methods of seminary work, a few words in regard to the seminary rooms at Leipzig may not be out of place. They are five in number, grouped closely together, and filled with such books as are likely to be needed in the investigations. One of the rooms is devoted to ancient history, one to mediæval and modern history, one to a general library, one to an office, and one to a general working room. The rooms are all open from nine a.m. to ten p.m. The government subsidy and the special fees of students yield an annual income for the library of about five hundred dollars. At the first meeting of all the sections of the seminary last year, fifty-six students were reported as present. They received a preliminary lecture on methods of work by Professor Maurenbrecher, who took as his text the instructions of Niebuhr: “Whatever you study, follow up your subject till no man on God’s earth knows more about it than you do.”

It ought, perhaps, to be added, that the state seminaries were severely attacked by Waitz in his remarkable address at the fifty years’ jubilee in celebration of Ranke’s inauguration. He said it was time to be severe, for subsidized seminaries tended to popularize the work, and he believed that mediocrity should be excluded from training for historical teachers. To which we are inclined to exclaim: Happy is that country, and that condition of education, in which too many are inclined to take instruction of the grade offered by the German seminaries! The system in its present form undoubtedly is not without its critics; but, after all due allowances are made, it would certainly not be too much to say, that at the present day there is no thoroughly good teaching of history anywhere in the world that is not founded on that careful, exact, and minute examination of sources which was originally instituted, and has ever since been encouraged, by the German seminary system.

It must suffice to add that in the German universities the number of courses of historical lectures varies from ten to twenty-five each semester, and that in each institution the number of seminaries varies from three to seven. For the work of preparation for a career as an historical teacher even in one of the secondary schools, not less than three or four years of successful study in the university is requisite. As there is more historical instruction in the German gymnasium than in our ordinary collegiate course, the training thus acquired at the university is more than equivalent to three years of graduate work in the American sense of the term.

It has not been without purpose that the subject of recent historical work in France has been reserved for the last of what I fear has been a very tedious review. For it is in France, as it seems to me, that greater progress has been made recently in historical work than in any other nation. I refer not simply to the number of the courses given, though in this regard the number offered annually at Paris is about twice the number offered at Berlin. I have in mind rather the organization and methods of instruction in the great schools for the training of historical writers and teachers. That they are superior to any thing now existing even in Germany, I think even a brief examination will be enough to show.

The first of the Parisian schools entitled to mention is the École des Chartres. In 1807 Napoleon dictated a note embodying his idea of a national school of history. But the project did not take form till 1821, and had but a feeble existence before 1847. After that time, however, it assumed increasing importance under the brilliant direction and service of M. Jules Quicherat, who continued to give it the inspiration of his ability till his death in 1882.

The purpose of the school was to train young scholars of exceptional promise in the sources of French history, and in the proper methods of using these sources. Epigraphy, palæography, archæology, the Romance languages, bibliography, the French archives, the classification of libraries, the history of political institutions, the history of administrative, judicial, civil, and canonical administration, these are the subjects to which attention is especially devoted. The mere list is enough to show that the object is not so much to teach history as to supplement the historical instruction that the students may have elsewhere enjoyed. The object of the school is not only to make known the riches of the French archives, but also to give the greatest possible facility in the best methods of using them. Pupils, to be admitted, must be at least twenty-five years of age, must have taken the baccalaureate degree, and must have already devoted themselves for years to historical work. But twenty students a year are admitted, the course extending over three years. By such men as Quicherat, Himly, Paul Meyer, Léon Gautier, and others, a very large number of the professors in the Collège de France and in the other schools have received a most excellent training. The testimony is uniform that the instruction in the École des Chartres is most thoroughly scientific and complete. So far as I am aware, Germany possesses nothing analogous to it, unless an exception be made of the new school in Austria, and that was avowedly modelled after the French prototype and put under the direction of Théodore Sickel, a pupil trained in the French school.

The second of the great Parisian schools to be mentioned is the École normale supérieure. This celebrated school was founded as a kind of higher university for the special and final training of university graduates desiring to become university professors. Founded at the beginning of the century, it was improved by Cousin in 1830, and still further by Cousin’s successors after the events of 1848. Under the guidance of Bersot, and still later under that of Fustel de Coulanges, work of the first importance has been accomplished. The quality of students may be inferred from the fact that the applicants must all have taken the bachelor’s degree, that the number annually applying for admission is about two hundred, from whom often not more than the best twenty-five are selected. The maximum number in all the classes is one hundred and thirty-five. These, like our students at West Point, are for the most part supported by the government and are held to rigid requirements. Housed in dormitories, the students are bound by rules which condescend to such details as to require that no one shall leave the yard except “at certain hours on Sunday and Tuesday,” and “once a month till midnight.” Half the students are trained in science, and half in letters. Of the latter class a fair proportion are fitted to become teachers and professors of history. During the third year, students are permitted, under strict regulations, to hear lectures in the École des Chartres, and in the École pratique still to be mentioned. After the second year, the students are required, in addition to their regular work, to devote themselves in the most serious manner to some work of earnest investigation. Many of the fruits of these studies have appeared from time to time in the pages of the Revue Historique.

From what has been said, it will readily be inferred that the competition for admission is such that it is easy to maintain a high standard of scholarship. It is not too much to say that the school is exerting a vast influence on the rising generation of historical workers and teachers throughout France.

The third and last of the French schools entitled here to be especially named is the École pratique des hautes Études. This institution was the most important fruit of the scholarly activity of Victor Duruy, who in various ways did so much for historical teaching in France. It was in 1868 that, as Minister of Public Instruction, he reported to the emperor that the lectures at the Collège de France were given to a promiscuous crowd of all classes and ages, as well as of both sexes; that these lectures made very little permanent impression, and that something should be done to teach such methods as those that had been instituted by the great scholars of Germany. Perhaps the most important merit of Duruy’s scheme was that it was a carefully devised plan to break up the notion that there could be such a thing as historical education from the mere hearing of lectures. It was the formal establishment in France of the library, or laboratory method of investigation, as applied to history. But this intelligent minister did not go about his work blindly. The ambassadors, ministers, and consuls were directed by the French government to examine and report upon the methods of other countries, especially upon those of Germany. Some of the reports were of remarkable merit. They revealed at once the necessities of the situation, and the difficulties that would confront an effort to graft the new order upon the old stock. Duruy had the very common experience of finding at the university an imperturbable conservatism. The old professors resisted his efforts at every point. He found it impossible either to convince them or to move them. Finally he determined to flank them, and this he did by establishing a new school, L’École pratique des hautes Études. The new school was founded by imperial decree, July 31, 1868, and his purpose was declared to be the bringing together not simply of auditors but of pupils—élèves. The librarian of the Sorbonne, M. Léon Rénier, was put in charge. Associated with him were Waddington, an old student of Oxford, and subsequently minister of public instruction; Michel Bréal, who had drawn up an admirable report on the methods in Germany; and Alfred Maury, director of the national archives. To the amazement of everybody, Duruy appointed young men, for the most part unknown, in regard to whose ability he had extraordinary sagacity. One of the most noteworthy of these was Gabriel Monod, who at once instituted a seminary of the most approved German thoroughness, and a little later founded the Revue Historique as an organ of expression of this new historical school. During the first year they had but six pupils; but so excellent were their methods, so energetic were their labors, and so admirable were their fruits, that in 1889, twenty-one years after the founding of the school, there have come to be some thirty professors, giving in the most approved and scientific manner scarcely less than a hundred different courses, in which the students are required to carry on their work by means of personal investigation. Of the admirable character of the results accomplished by this group of young French historical scholars, the most abundant evidence is furnished by the pages of the Revue Historique.

But recent and special activity in historical work is not confined to the new schools. It is manifest everywhere in preponderating influence. Of the thirty-eight professors in the Faculté des Lettres at Paris, ten are professors of history and two are professors of geography. Under the Second Empire the whole number was only three. A kindred impulse has also been felt in the provinces. The city of Paris has founded a chair for the special study of the history of the French Revolution. A similar chair has been founded at Lyons. Bordeaux has established a chair for the study of the history of Southern France. In the École libre des Sciences politiques, founded by M. Boutmy in 1872, much work in the history of political institutions is also done. The French schools at Athens and Rome are doing much in archæology. And so in every quarter and at every point, France seems to be fully alive to the fact that it is in the study of history that the present needs of the nation are to be advantageously and abundantly supplied.

In the presence of such achievements, American scholarship finds far more encouragement for its modesty than for its pride.

Why may not a school, with some such methods and purposes as those established at Paris, be established in the United States? Shall it be in Washington, or in New York, or at Harvard, or at Yale, or at Johns Hopkins, or at Cornell, or at some other educational centre in the nation?

It is not exhilarating to our patriotism to reflect that until some such facilities are afforded on this side of the Atlantic, large numbers, not only of the brightest but also of the wisest of our youth, will annually flock to the better opportunities provided by the institutions of the old world.

Charles Kendall Adams (January 24, 1835–July 26, 1902) had been a student of the AHA’s first president, Andrew Dickson White. He taught for a number of years at the University of Michigan, before succeeding White as president of Cornell University in 1885. His most noted work was a Manual of Historical Literature (3rd ed., 1889) which provided annotated listings of the most important historical works in English, French, and German, as well as guides to programs of historical study.



In the preparation of this address I have been placed under obligations by many persons for valuable information. I desire especially to express my thanks to Professor H. B. Adams, of Johns Hopkins University, Professor Paul Frédéricq of the University of Liège, Professor E. Levasseur of Paris, Professor Willard Fiske, and Professor Villari of Florence.—C. K. A.


  1. The following is inserted as a specimen of the examination papers set before candidates for the degree of A.B. in the history tripos:

    1. “It is a fact that some men are free and others slaves; the slavery of the latter is useful and just” (Aristotle: ‘Politics,’ I., 15). “We hold this truth as self-evident: that all men were created equal” (Declaration of Independence of the United States). What arguments can you bring to support these two assertions? Show to what extent it is possible to reconcile them.
    2. Show briefly the necessity and the nature of the reforms instituted by Justinian in his legislation.
    3. The epoch of heroic kings is followed by the epoch of aristocracies (Maine). Prove this statement from Roman history and from the history of a nation of the west or north, showing the part played by these aristocracies in the development of laws.
    4. Guizot considered feudalism a species of federal government; weigh the arguments in favor of this view, and compare feudalism with other ancient and modern confederations.
    5. Consider the causes of the universal growth of towns during the twelfth century, and determine to what extent the revival of Roman institutions can be seen therein.
    6. According to the principles of Austin, what are the limits of rights of subjects against their sovereign and of the sovereign against his subjects? Discuss the application of these principles to the struggles of James I against Parliament.
    7. Show that the following laws are not laws in the true sense of the word: Lynch law, canonical law, the law of cricket, and the law of supply and demand.
    8. Show how the penal code has been from time to time adapted to occasion, and give examples borrowed from the history of the law of treason.
    9. Show, with examples from history, what influence public opinion can have on government in countries that have neither democratic nor representative institutions.
    10. Distinguish, by the aid of ancient and modern authors, between the different methods that can be applied to the study of politics, and compare their advantages.
    11. What is the meaning of the terms “national will” and “national conscience,” as differing from the wishes and opinions of the citizens? Show the importance of these terms in view of the development and rank of states.
    12. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the different modes of electing executive power in democratic states. []
    13. Maurenbrecher’s words were: “Nur aus dem Boden der Geschichte erwächst die wahre Lebenskraft des Staatsmannes. Nur diejenige Politik kann eine gute genannt werden, welche die historische Entwickelung einer bestimmten Nation fortzusetzen, an die historisch erwachsenen Elemente weiter anzuknüpfen sich entschliesst. Der Bruch mit der geschichtlichen Tradition eines Volkes, das eben ist die Revolution; Gutes kann aus der Revolution niemals erwachsen.”—Maurenbrecher’s “Antrittsrede,” 1884, S. 16. []