This presidential address was delivered at the 95th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Washington, D.C., December 28, 1980. Published in the American Historical Review 86:1 (February 1981): 1–20.

American Historians on the European Past

Sir Hans Sloane, that tireless searcher after collectibles whose vast accumulations became the nucleus of the British Museum, wrote on the flyleaf of his Natural History of Jamaica a verse from the Book of Daniel that is an appropriate preface to this essay. “Many shall run to and fro,” it read, “and knowledge shall be increased.” Many American historians of Europe have run to and fro across the Atlantic in recent decades, and historical knowledge has indeed been increased. I am less certain that its quality matches its quantity.

I made my first trip across the Atlantic in 1936, not yet as a historian but as a recent college graduate attracted to the study of modern European history by my college teacher, Frederick Artz. In Europe I was fascinated by the living presence of history that I had, until then, seen only in the reflection of other men’s words. The rich evidence of Britain’s and the Continent’s past impressed on me more than any books the long course of European history, the immense complexity of its many interweaving national elements, and the strangeness of much of it to an American raised and educated in the Middle West.

I recall asking myself in the autumn of 1936, when I entered graduate school at Harvard, if I should not turn from European history, which then loomed so formidably, to the history of the United States, to which I could bring the understanding of a native son. I did not make the change, and I have no regrets, for I have found European history endlessly fascinating. Yet the question has remained with me, not in a personal way but as a question for all Americans of my branch of the profession. Can Americans, making their careers in the United States or Canada,1 be significantly productive historians of modern Europe or of any of its national states?

My colleagues in French history know that this is essentially the question to which I addressed two articles on what I called “The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France.”2 The dilemma is the choice between writing monographs based on exhaustive research in archives in the manner of the French university historians of our time or writing books that are primarily syntheses of monographic scholarship, intended for American and English readers, whose contribution for the international scholarly community is an outsider’s insight into the history of France.

The first year of the 1980s is an appropriate time to consider the accomplishments and failures of American historians of all of modern Europe. Just half a century has passed since the establishment of the Journal of Modern History, a landmark in the development of modern European history as a professional academic field in America. At that time—the late 1920s—the number of American scholars in the field was small. Chester P. Higby of the University of Wisconsin, the principal moving spirit behind the effort to create a journal of modern European history, identified 250 American historians of modern Europe in 1926, when he circulated a questionnaire on teaching, research, and writing in the area. The number of replies to that questionnaire—160—is itself eloquent testimony to the smallness of this group of historians just over fifty years ago. Their replies reveal a narrow range of scholarly interests. The principal national concentrations were in British history and French history, and the most popular research topics were World War I and the French Revolution. Although more than one-fifth of those who replied had received at least some of their training in Germany, few worked in German history, and even fewer in Eastern European history. Fewer than one-half had ever done research in European archives and libraries.3

The most widely acclaimed American contribution to modern European historical scholarship in the interwar years was in diplomatic history, and two of its landmarks—Sidney Bradshaw Fay’s The Origins of the World War (1928) and Bernadotte Schmitt’s The Coming of the War, 1914 (1930)—appeared shortly after Higby made his inquiry. The American concern with European problems that those books reflect contributed in succeeding decades toward turning more American scholarly effort to the study of modern European history. Events of the 1930s—the Great Depression, the fall of the German republic, the spread of fascism, and the menace of Nazi Germany—gave a new immediacy to European developments and a pressing urgency to understanding them. A new breed of European historians, specialists in the internal histories of individual European nations, began to emerge in growing numbers and to move onto ground formerly occupied by native European historians. They produced largely two types of books: (1) syntheses of European scholarship supplemented by findings of their own limited research in primary sources (such as Crane Brinton’s A Decade of Revolution, 1789-1799 [1934] and Frederick B. Artz’s France under the Bourbon Restoration, 1814-1830 [1931]), an American genre to which Leonard Kreiger gave the inelegant but descriptive label “the refinished import”;4 and (2) original, archive-based monographs on the European model. As the decade of the 1930s moved into the 1940s, the appearance of sophisticated monographs (such as The English Yeoman under Elizabeth and the Early Stuarts [1942] by Mildred Campbell, Electoral Procedure under Louis-Philippe [1937] by Sherman Kent, Nationalism and the Cultural Crisis in Prussia, 1806-1815 [1939] by Eugene Newton Anderson, and Church and State in Russia: The Last Years of the Empire, 1900-1917 [1940] by John S. Curtiss) testified to the growing interests and competence of American historians of Europe and to the capacity of American graduate schools to train students in this kind of historical scholarship.

Nevertheless, although the producing scholars in modern European history then included some distinguished practitioners, their number remained small. My master, the late Donald McKay, remarked that the historians of France in the United States in the 1930s could hold their annual meeting on a sofa. The “take-off” of modern European history as a populous and prolific field of scholarly activity in the United States and Canada came after the World War of 1939-45. That activity was fueled by a variety of potent forces. The war intensified interest in Europe and in a search to discover what had produced the catastrophes of war, economic collapse, and social upheaval. A generation of historians fresh from graduate school had the heady experience of participating in rapidly moving history, many of them on military staffs or in intelligence organizations where their historical knowledge and skills gave them opportunities of privileged observation. Beginning in the late 1940s the Cold War added to concern with Europe and to the desire for understanding. The study of history promised answers to pressing questions. The “GI Bill” enabled hundreds to attend graduate school to pursue their interest in history. Foreign languages learned in army or navy schools facilitated specialization in hitherto unusual fields. The extraordinary strength of the American dollar in the quarter-century after the war made extended periods of research in Europe practical for professors and graduate students as never before—or since. After 1949 Fulbright fellowships provided the means for hundreds of young Americans to study and to do research in Europe, and in 1958 the introduction of jet airplane service on the North Atlantic route brought European archives and libraries within a few hours’ travel time of major American cities. Perhaps even more significant was the influx into America in the 1930s of refugee scholars, especially from Germany and Austria—Hans Baron, Andreas Dorpalen, Dietrich Gerhard, Felix Gilbert, Hajo Holborn, Hans Kohn, Theodor Mommsen, Franz Neumann, and others; they enriched the quality and extended the range of graduate study in European history and attracted able young Americans into the field. Then, too, many younger Europeans who fled Europe in the 1930s or 1940s as children or adolescents took up the study of European history, motivated in part at least, one may assume, by the desire to learn more of the forces that had convulsed their world and disrupted their lives. They usually brought to the task language skills still rare in America and the advantage of being able to view European history as both outsiders and insiders. The influx of talent of both foreign mature scholars and foreign students was in its intellectual influence probably unparalleled in modern experience. European history in America was one of the great beneficiaries.5

The upsurge of university and college enrollments in the postwar decades created a market for historians, and European history became an economically viable occupation for all, losing its aura of a gentleman’s avocation, which it still retained even in the 1930s. In the postwar decades jobs were waiting. Established graduate schools expanded, new schools emerged, and the narrow stream of Ph.D.’s in history flowing from graduate schools widened into a broad river.

These new Ph.D.’s were professionally formed in a milieu that emphasized research—usually archival research—and publication, and in the 1950s their manuscripts appeared in growing numbers on publishers’ desks. Established and newly created university presses, buoyed by foundation grants and public support, were able to publish hundreds of them. New, specialized journals (such as the Journal of British Studies, French Historical Studies, the Journal of Central European Affairs, and the Austrian History Yearbook) permitted the publication of a surging torrent of articles. The little band of European historians who in 1929 founded the Journal of Modern History and the Modern European History Section of the American Historical Association had hoped, they said, by their action “to promote the study of European history in North America.” That hope has, in the words of William H. McNeill, writing in the fiftieth anniversary number of the journal, “been accomplished on a scale they hardly dreamed of.” In the years from 1968 to 1978 alone, according to a count made by McNeill, American historians published more than 2,000 books on European history since 1750.6

The quantitative accomplishment of our modern European historians is clear and undoubted. The focus of my concern is on the quality and significance of their achievement in the thirty-five years since the beginning of the great “takeoff” of the mid-1940s. Admittedly, no method of measuring quality in historical writing is definitive, and any method that one may adopt has limitations that another investigator might reasonably find unacceptable. I have chosen to use the formal judgments of American books made by professional historians in the European countries about whose histories we have written. I have looked to the English historical establishment for a measure of the quality of American books on English history, to the French university historians for judgments of American books on French history, and, similarly, to West German and Soviet historians for judgments of our works on their histories. I have read the reviews of American books on their respective histories in three leading journals in Britain, three in France, and three in Germany and in two Soviet journals in the thirty-five years between 1945 and 1980 or for shorter periods in cases in which the journals have been founded since 1945. I have classified the judgments the reviewers expressed according to five categories: Enthusiastic, Favorable, Neutral, Reserved, and Unfavorable. “Enthusiastic” I have restricted to those that acclaim books as definitive and likely long to remain so or as path-breaking renewals of their subjects. “Neutral” designates those reviews that describe or summarize a book without offering any clear judgment of it. And “Reserved” denotes those reviews that express serious reservations about a book yet do not make an overall unfavorable judgment.

Geoffrey Elton, writing in 1970 in his Modern Historians of British History, declared that the preceding quarter of a century had wrought a “remarkable transformation in our understanding of English history since the accession of the Tudors.” There had been, he declared, “a major renewal” and, in some areas, “a total reconstitution.” He attributed this to the substantial increase in the number of historians working in the field, to greater professional competence, to the multiplying of accessible sources, and to the concern with new questions and the use of new methods of research and analysis.7 My question here is, What has been the contribution of American historians of Britain to this transformation and to its continuation in the decade since Elton made this judgment?

In the thirty-five years beginning in 1945 the English Historical Review reviewed 289 books in British history written by Americans, 242 of which were reviewed in “Short Notices,” which sometimes run to as much as a page and a half, and 47 in longer “Reviews.” History, the journal of the Historical Association, reviewed 221, and the Historical Journal and its predecessor, the Cambridge Historical Journal, reviewed 64. No other foreign journal that I surveyed reviewed so many American books in these three and a half decades as did the English Historical Review and History; only the French in the Revue historique approached these figures, with almost two hundred reviews during the same period. The annual coverage in the English Historical Review rose from three to four reviews in the 1940s to an average of nine during the 1950s, ten during the 1960s, and thirteen during the 1970s. History follows a similar progression, usually noting somewhat fewer books, but in 1978 alone its editors found 25 books worthy of review.

The generally favorable judgment of the products of American scholarship is impressive. Of the 289 American books reviewed in the English Historical Review, 174—fully 60 percent—were favorably received and only 40—14 percent—unfavorably. The incidence of both “Favorable” and “Unfavorable” notices in History was slightly higher. In the HistoricalJournal the proportion of favorable reviews dropped to 50 percent, and “Reserved” reviews were more frequent than in the other journals, which is probably not surprising to its regular readers. The Historical Journal‘s reviewers were enthusiastic about none of the books they considered, but History gave that accolade to 10 books and the English Historical Review to 4. In almost none of the reviews did I find any hint of condescension or disdain for colonials or outsiders. The English historical establishment, this record indicates, accepts American historical scholars as equals on its own ground, writing the same kinds of scholarly books as do the English themselves, books intended for scholarly readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

The occasional enthusiastic review and other comments suggest, moreover, that English scholars regard some American historians as their masters in the study of their own history. Reviewing the Festschrift for Wallace Notestein, Christopher Hill of Balliol declared, “Notestein is among the great seventeenth-century historians. His Winning of the Initiative by the House of Commons is a classic, fundamental to all our thinking about the constitutional conflicts in Stuart England.” D. H. Pennington of the University of Manchester on the same occasion avowed that Notestein was “firmly enthroned, with Neale and Namier, as one of the ‘three N’s’ of English parliamentary history.”8 Recently, Notestein’s conclusions have been challenged, but this neither erases the high praise of the 1960s nor diminishes my argument. Notestein was already an important and recognized scholar before World War II (his Winning of the Initiative by the House of Commons was published in 1925), but younger men have also been recognized for their major contributions to the renewal and transformation of modern English history that Elton noted. In the mid-1950s Christopher Hill wrote in the English Historical Review, “The best writing in English on our seventeenth century is today coming out of the United States,” and in 1967 in his review of The World We Have Lost he rebuked Peter Laslett for being “ignorant of the important sociological history written in England and the USA during the past twenty-five years.”9 A critic writing in the Historical Journal in 1975 commented on J. H. Hexter’s The Reign of King Pym (1941), noting that “no book has exerted a more profound influence on the history of the revolutionary middle decades of the seventeenth century.” And a reviewer of Wallace J. MacCaffrey’s The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime declared, “This is narrative history at its best.”10 At the highest level of achievement and recognition—along with Wallace Notestein—stands Arthur Marder. His “magisterial studies on British sea power,” declared a reviewer in the English Historical Review in 1976, are “an oeuvre that is already one of the ornaments of mid-twentieth-century scholarship.”11 He is recognized as the historian of the Royal Navy in the twentieth century. Oxford University’s granting him an honorary doctorate of laws and the crown’s bestowal upon him of the Order of the British Empire dramatically acclaim the high and secure place of his contribution to English historical literature. No American working in modern French history has ever won such recognition from his or her French peers.

An explanation of this contrast can be found in the different standards of judgment applied to American books on opposite sides of the Channel. Among university historians in France the measure of a great historical work is the thèse of the doctorat d’état, a massive product of a decade or more of research aimed at total coverage of all relevant archives and other sources. Americans living three thousand miles or more away and bound there by their employment cannot spend the years in French archives necessary for the preparation of works comparable to the French thèse. England has no such monumental academic model. Even the most distinguished English historians rarely produce works of the sheer size and majesty of Georges Lefebvre’s Les Paysans du Nord pendant la Révolution française (1924; 2d ed., 1959) or André-Jean Tudesq’s Les Grands notables en France (1840-1849): Étude historique d’une psychologie sociale (1964). English dissertations are ordinarily completed in three or four years and are relatively brief. A year and one or two summers of research in British archives and libraries usually suffice to match this model, and they are not difficult to arrange. Clearly, many Americans have done so and have equaled and even excelled the British on their own ground. Historians in North America have produced monographic studies of the highest quality and occasionally of superlative importance. If we accept the collective judgment of the British historical establishment, we can conclude that our historians of Britain have been fruitfully engaged in a proper course of historical research and publication.

Despite the formidable french standard raised before them, scores of Americans do write French history. The number of their books on the modern period published in the past three and a half decades is probably second only to those on modern British history. Of the 2,000 books that McNeill found in his survey of American works on European history since 1750, 304 were on France, compared with 543 on Britain.12 The Revue historique published reviews or notices of 194 American books between 1945 and 1979. Annales: Économies, sociétés, civilisations and the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine together reviewed 62.

The American interest in French history predates World War I, but the tumultuous course of events in the 1940s—the astounding collapse in 1940, the puzzling episode of Vichy, the Resistance, the rise of de Gaulle, the Liberation—heightened interest in France, and the turmoil of postwar adjustment combined with France’s key position as the nearest American bridgehead on the Continent sustained that interest at a high level in the postwar years. If it declined in the 1950s, the return of de Gaulle to power revived it at the close of the decade. French history appeared as an important and lively subject to many young Americans, especially to those whose wartime duties had taken them to France or involved them in the study of France in military or political intelligence agencies. In 1956 the growing number of American historians of France made possible the establishment of the Society for French Historical Studies, which henceforward held annual conferences on French history and two years later created a journal, French Historical Studies, the first outside France, I believe, devoted exclusively to the publication of scholarly articles on French history.

The scholarly production of this considerable body of American historians has been noted with increasing favor in the leading French historical journals; and the proportion of favorable reviews has risen from just under 40 percent in the 1950s to just over 60 percent in the 1970s. The once-common expressions of condescension toward American scholarly efforts, moreover, have almost disappeared. But the number of books reviewed in the 1970s, when more were appearing, was no larger than in the 1950s, and few American books have been judged worthy of translation and publication in French (in contrast with the practices of other Western European countries), nor have any American historians of France won recognition from their French peers comparable to that won by American historians of Britain from their British judges. No American has written a book that the French rank with Lefebvre’s Les Paysans du Nord, Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie’s Les Paysans du Languedoc (1966), or, of course, Fernand Braudel’s La Méditerranée et le monde méditerranéen à l’époque de Philippe II (1949; 2d ed., 1966). Some French scholars closely follow American work in their fields, but one still encounters in professional writing dismaying ignorance of—or indifference to—American publications. For example, a historiographical article on the Second Empire, published in 1974, mentions only one book by an American,13 although American scholars have contributed significantly to the renewal of the history of that regime. The basic explanation of the French establishment’s limited approval of American historical scholarship is to be found, I think, as I suggested earlier, in the French model of what constitutes a great work of history. The French standard, the thèse, can never be met by Americans—or by anyone else so far removed from the archival sources of French history.

Yet there are fields in modern French history in which the work of American historians is winning growing recognition as important scholarship, even superior to that of the French themselves. This has occurred usually in areas that French historians have neglected. There foreigners have been able to move onto unplowed and sometimes fertile ground. Thirty-five years ago the eminent French colonial historian Charles A. Julien called attention to American work in colonial history and warned his French readers, “At present it is impossible seriously to study French colonization without knowing English.”14 On the reign of Louis XIV, Jean Meyer of the University of Paris IV recently declared in the Revue historique that “the young and dynamic school of French history” in America has since 1945 accomplished “a profound renewal of diplomatic history” and an almost complete revision of the generally accepted view of the closing years of Louis’s reign. This work, little noticed by the French historical school, must, Meyer insisted, eventually be incorporated into “our historical vision.” In his very complimentary review of A. Lloyd Moote’s The Revolt of the Judges, Meyer observed that the reflections of an author detached from the French historical school can be salutary and that intimate knowledge of other national histories enables Anglo-Saxon historians to make illuminating comparisons.15

Another area where American achievement is recognized and praised by French historians is twentieth-century history, especially of the years between 1918 and 1945. In their own country French historians have, in the words of John C. Cairns, “to an unusual degree surrendered contemporary history to journalists and politicians.”16 American historians moved into the field, and they brought to their study of it the advantages of perspective and detachment. Americans, like Englishmen, have never experienced a foreign invasion or a miscarried revolution, and for them the study of contemporary history, one French historian recently observed, creates “no state of anguish.”17 Such books as Joel Colton’s Léon Blum: Humanist in Politics (1966), Philip C. F. Bankwitz’s Maxime Weygand and Civil-Military Relations in Modern France (1967), Eugen Weber’s Action française: Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth-Century France (1962), and Robert O. Paxton’s Parades and Politics at Vichy: The French Officer Corps under Marshal Pétain (1966) earned the admission of René Rémond of the University of Paris X in 1970 that “to Americans we owe some of the best studies of contemporary France.”18 Paxton’s Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 (1972), published after Rémond made this statement, has won comparable recognition.

In the past decade, however, young French historians, apparently regarding the nineteenth century as a depleted vein in their country’s history, have in growing numbers been reclaiming the twentieth century from amateurs and foreigners. They have concentrated especially on the two world wars, the decades between the wars, the Occupation, and the Resistance. Americans and the English continue to find the nineteenth century attractive, and they are now perhaps more active in that field than the French themselves.19 Their different points of view and methods are recognized and appreciated by French reviewers of their books. Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (1976), Edward Shorter and Charles Tilly’s Strikes in France, 1830-1968 (1974), Robert R. Locke’s French Legitimists and the Politics of the Moral Order in the Early Third Republic (1974), and my own French Revolution of 1830 (1972), for examples, have been notably well received, and the monographs of a new generation now or recently appearing promise to renew significant parts of France’s history in the nineteenth century; I think of the work of Ted Margadant, John Meniman, Patricia O’Brien, and a number of others.

Biography is another area that French historians have generally left to outsiders and in which Americans have won recognition in France.20 A review in the Revue historique of two recently published American biographies of French political figures began with the unequivocal pronouncement, “Certainly, the Anglo-Saxons remain the masters in the art of biography.” Jacques Godechot in his latest review article on the French Revolution and Napoleon included among ten biographies that he especially values three by Americans—Louis Gottschalk, Louis Greenbaum, and Charles Gillispie.21

Although Italian history has attracted relatively few American historians, their numbers have increased notably since 1945. American interest in the Italian Renaissance has long been established, and from it have come important contributions to Renaissance historiography. The newer American concern with more recent Italian history was heightened by the same conditions that stimulated expanding interest in other areas of modern European history. In addition, American intellectuals’ “discovery” of the country in the postwar decades helped forge new bonds between the United States and Italy. The external interests of Italian historians, formerly concentrated on German historical scholarship, came to include American historical writing. The journal Storia contemporanea has a resident American editor, Philip Cannistraro, charged with assuring review in that journal of American books on Italian history and with screening article manuscripts by American scholars. The English-language Journal of Italian History, established in Florence in 1978, includes articles by Americans and reviews of American publications. Review articles in other journals note American books, and a goodly proportion of them are translated and published in Italy. Particular attention has been paid to American works on Italian fascism, the interpretations of outsiders removed from the conflicts and emotions of Italian politics being especially prized.22

Serious professional study of modern Spanish history in America, save for the history of the empire, dates only from the 1950s. In 1958 Richard Herr published The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain; it was acclaimed by historians in Spain and became—and remains—the standard book on the subject. During the 1960s the major historical writing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in the English language, by Americans and Britons, and its reception by native historians was generally favorable. The books accepted as the standard works on the Falange, on anticlericalism, and on modern agricultural reform are by Americans, and two of the three on the Civil War are by Americans, the third by a Briton.23 American books were especially valued in Spain for their foundation in research on topics forbidden by political circumstances to native historians (or neglected by them), for their detachment from domestic political quarrels, and for their perspective. Most of them were primarily synthetic and interpretive. Recently, a new generation of American scholars, taking advantage of the opening of Spanish archives, has turned to attempting archives-based monographs, but they now encounter in Spain, once a country of relatively low costs, the same problems of rising prices and a faltering dollar that handicap American scholars in northern European countries. Synthesis and interpretation may continue to be the most practical—and rewarding—kind of historical enterprise for Americans working in Spanish history.

Modern German history stands with modern British, French, and Russian history as one of the four principal foci since 1945 of American scholarly interest in European history. Higby reported in 1929 that “a few” American historians had always been interested in Germany, but in the pre-World War I years the actual number of active professional historians writing German history in the United States and Canada was small—small compared with those writing British history and especially small compared with those American historians who in the 1960s and 1970s made Germany their area of research and interest.24 In the thirty-one years since 1949 the Historische Zeitschrift has published reviews of 142 books on German and Austrian history by Americans. McNeill, in his study of the years 1968-78, found 276 titles on Germany and Austria, only 35 fewer than on modern French history. (In each of the next ranking areas of American scholarly attention—Italy and Spain—he found fewer than 50 for each country.)12

The great surge of interest in German history began in the 1940s, set off by an extraordinary combination of circumstances unmatched in any other national area. German history, like all European history, benefited from the intense interest created by the upheaval of the War of 1939-45 and the anxieties of recovery and readjustment after the war, but Germany had its own special attraction. There the collapse of Western ideals of democracy, parliamentary government, personal liberty, and respect for the individual, on which Americans were nurtured, had been most disastrous and shocking, and German defiance of the international order and German aggression appeared to be the sources of the death and destruction that had spread around the world. Where better to start a search for understanding what had gone wrong with the world than in German history?

The opportunity for sound training and rewarding study in that field was much enriched by two fortuitous circumstances. By far the largest group of refugee historical scholars who sought new careers in the United States came from Germany and Austria, and by the late 1940s many of them were established in American universities. There they joined a growing number of native American historians of Germany in training the aspiring graduate students attracted to the study of German history. These professors and students were fortunate in having at hand for their research the vast collection of captured German documents made available on microfilm in the United States by a project sponsored by the American Historical Association. This collection almost miraculously removed one of the great obstacles to effective training in modern European historical methods and to the production of original and significant research studies.25 In America the study of no other foreign national history was so happily blessed.

The young Europeans, many of them only children, who fled Europe in the 1930s and 1940s were largely German, and they formed an abundant reservoir of graduate students fluent in German and having extraordinary knowledge of Germany and the Germans and often, too, retaining ties with their native country. The roll of active American historians of Germany who followed this route to the profession and the number and quality of their books proclaim the importance of this cause of the “take-off” of German history in America. I think of Hans Gatzke, Peter Gay, Georg Iggers, Peter Paret, Fritz Stern, Klemens von Klemperer, the late Klaus Epstein, and a dozen others. The frequent incidence in the ranks of accomplished American historians of Germany of such names as Beck, Deutsch, Helmreich, Koehl, Krieger, Pflanze, Reichard, Rohr, Schorske, and Schroeder suggests that the existence of a large number of Americans of German descent, surely larger than that of any other European national group save the British, was still another source of the flourishing of German history in the United States. One rarely finds a French name among American historians of France or a Spanish name among those of Spain.

The personal ties between Germany and America through both professors and students may account, in part, for the warm reception accorded by German reviewers to books by American historians. Of the almost one hundred and fifty reviews of such books in the Historische Zeitschrift since 1949, when publication of that journal resumed after the war, 67 percent were “Favorable” or “Enthusiastic.” By contrast, the Revue historique so favored only about half of the books by Americans that it reviewed, and the English Historical Review but 60 percent. Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht among all eleven journals surveyed had the highest proportion of favorable reviews—69 percent. The substantial number of American books translated into German and published by German publishing houses, unmatched in France, is yet another testimony to the German profession’s acceptance of American work.

The American contributions to modern German history most respected and acclaimed by reviewers have tended to be in areas neglected by historians in Germany. Leonard Krieger observed that German national historians, like the French, have neglected lost causes in their nation’s past, leaving gaps into which Americans have moved with notable success.26 Following the much earlier lead of Guy Stanton Ford, who published his Stein and the Era of Reform in Prussia, 1807-1815 in 1922, William O. Shanahan, Walter Simon, Peter Paret, and Richard Raack produced books on aspects of that subject that have won favorable reception from German reviewers.27 The German and Austrian revolutions of 1848-49 have inspired books by Jerome Blum, István Déak, Theodore Hamerow, Stanley Pech, and R. John Rath. The development of the German socialist and labor movements has been explored and interpreted in the works of Peter Gay, Richard Hunt, Vernon Lidtke, Carl Schorske, and a dozen others.28

In the study of the history of the between-wars decades, 1919-39, American historians of Germany have enjoyed advantages comparable to those of their counterparts in French history. They can pursue it with a detachment probably unmatched by Germans and can reasonably expect to produce more balanced reconstructions of the past and, perhaps, more valid interpretations. The perspective from America, Hajo Holborn maintained, can give “many events and ideas of German history … their proper proportions.”29 The list of American historians who have written books on the Weimar Republic is long and impressive and so, too, is the list of those who have written on the Nazi period. And both lists continue to grow. The psychohistory of Adolf Hitler and other Nazis is largely the creation and preserve of Americans—notably Walter Langer, Rudolph Binion, Robert G. L. Waite, and Peter Loewenberg.30

In a different quarter of German history one can reasonably speak of an “American school.”31 “After the dissolution of the middle European community,” declared a writer in the Historische Zeitschrifit in 1961, “the historiography of the Habsburg Empire fell into a long sleep, out of which it awoke, fresh and lively and especially active in America.”32 German reviewers in approving, sometimes acclaiming, the books by Americans—William A. Jenks, Robert Kann, Enno Kraehe, Arthur May, R. John Rath, and several others—have observed that American historians of the Habsburg Empire enjoy the double advantage of removal from the nationalist passions of the area and of having the insights of those who have experienced life in a federal system that has worked and flourished.33

As judged and accepted by historians in the country whose history they write, American historians of Germany resemble American historians of Britain more closely than their American colleagues in French history. They are accepted as equals, their research is appreciated, their interpretations are considered and respected, and their books are often translated and published in Germany. Some of their works have won praise approaching that lavished by English reviewers on a few American books on British history. Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther was hailed by a reviewer in the Historische Zeitschrifit as “this beautiful book.” “We have no … comparable book in the German language.” Theodore Hamerow’s The Social Foundations of German Unification, 1858-1871 was described in the Historische Zeitschrift as “a standard work concerning the foundation of the Reich,” and the same journal’s reviewer of Gerald Feldman’s Ironand Steel in the German Inflation, 1916-1923 praised it as a “trail-blazing achievement.”34

Before World War II a few Americans worked and published in Russian history, but only after the war did it become a prime area of American scholarly attention. The influences of the war, the GI Bill, and expanding university enrollments were enhanced in the case of Russia by the wartime alliance and the Cold War—the Soviet Union suddenly emerged as a subject of great national concern. Yet our knowledge of the USSR, compared with that of the major Western European countries, was relatively meager. The government, the armed forces, business, and ordinary citizens wanted to know more. The success of the military’s wartime foreign area study programs in training specialists in Russian language, culture, and institutions encouraged universities in the postwar years to develop their Russian offerings. Foundations were generous in their support and so, too, was the government with its NDEA and NDFL fellowship programs and institutional grants. The wartime area study programs, moreover, produced a large number of skilled and mature young men and women anxious to continue their work in Russian studies; many of them chose graduate study in Russian history.35 Buoyed by this support, graduate schools in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s produced a broadening stream of men and women trained in Russian history, and from them and their students came an astonishing number of books. McNeill’s survey found 311 books published between 1968 and 1978 on Russian history since 1750, a total exceeded among European national histories only by that for British history.12

The application to American work on Russian, history of the method of measuring quality by the judgments of the historical establishment in that country raises two serious problems. First, relatively few American books are reviewed in Soviet journals. Only two—Voprosy Istorii (“Questions of History”) and Istoriia SSSR (“History of the USSR”)—regularly review American books, and since 1945 Voprosy Istorii, the nearest Soviet equivalent of the American Historical Review, has reviewed only 22 American books on modern Russian history, and Istoriia SSSR, founded in 1957, has reviewed only 32. Second, most areas of modern Russian history are politically sensitive in the Soviet Union, and the criteria for judgment publicly applied to books in the field are, in American eyes at least, likely to be more political than scholarly. Review articles on books by Western scholars ordinarily carry titles that include the loaded phrase “bourgeois historiography.”

Not surprisingly, in my survey of Soviet reviews I found a distinctly less favorable reception of American books than that found in Western European reviews, although by no means a broad rejection. Reviewers commonly disapprove of American interpretations, but they respect and often praise American archival research, a combination of conflicting judgments that largely explains the relatively high proportion of reviews in the “Reserved” category. Two patterns in my compilation appear to illustrate this potent political element of professional judgments: (1) the number and proportion of books approved rose in the years of detente; and (2) the favorable reviews are more frequent in prerevolutionary history than in the years since 1917. Only one book on the October Revolution—and that peripherally on the subject—won clear approval.36

The dilemma that I originally saw confronting American historians of modern France appears simple and clear cut in comparison with the complex choices facing American historians of modern Russia. For the latter the inclination to undertake monographs based on archival research has been tempered not only by distance and the expense of travel but also by the difficulty, sometimes even the impossibility, of obtaining permission to enter the country. Until the negotiation of formal cultural exchange arrangements in the late 1950s, American scholars simply could not get to archival materials, and even now access to particular collections can be complicated and unpredictable. But broad interpretive works based largely on materials available in the United States and Canada, which I recommended to American historians of France because of the obstacles to prolonged research in French archives, have little chance of winning approval from historians in the Soviet Union not only for ideological reasons but also because they place a high value on exhaustive research. The American books most favorably judged are those based on deep and extensive archival research. American scholars have some chance of earning the praise of their Soviet peers only if they undertake such research, as a few have successfully done (such as Terence Emmons for his The Russian Landed Gentry and the Peasant Emancipation of 1861 [1968], Valentin Boss for his Newton and Russia, and Philip Pomper for his Peter Lavrov and the Russian Revolutionary Movement),37 but they run the considerable risk of failure by being denied access to the archives they must use. Yet, if they undertake broad interpretive works, they face the probability of disapproval by their Soviet peers. A further complication is that approval by the native professionals is not always regarded in American academic circles as an accolade to be sought. More clearly than for American historians of Western and Central Europe, the most significant reading public of our historians of Russia would seem to be American and English. If this be true, then the writing of works of synthesis and interpretation must be the most rewarding scholarly activity.

American interest in the history of Eastern Europe other than Russia greatly increased after the war, and this increase depended on essentially the same forces that influenced American study of Russian and German history—the upheavals of war and revolution, the anxieties of the Cold War, and the abundant supply of fellowship and research money from foundations and governmental agencies. Here, too, the emigrants, especially the young, provided a pool of linguistically qualified and knowledgeable students. From this pool came the foreign-born but American-trained scholars István Deák, Stephen Fischer-Galati, Peter Sugar, and George Barany, who with native Americans, many with family connections in Eastern Europe (such as Wayne Vucinich, Charles Jelavich, and Leften Stavrianos), created a veritable American school of Eastern European history. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s this school produced a broadening flow of books. McNeill counted 148 published in the years 1968-78 alone. Research in the field is handicapped, as in the Soviet Union, by the uncertainties of access to archives and, additionally, by the shortcomings of organization and classification of collections that are open, which probably explains why most Americans in the field have chosen quite broad subjects for their books.

It is probably impossible—certainly it is impossible for me—to generalize about Eastern European historians’ reception of these books. I understand that they do value the Americans’ detachment from the intense national and regional hostilities of the area that they can bring to their historical studies, and their books are praised for their outsiders’ insights and interpretations.

What can i conclude from this survey of our European peers’ reception of our books on their histories? In British history Americans are part of the establishment, participants in the continuing renewal of the subject, and accepted as equal and respected colleagues. American historians of Britain, if their goals and the opportunities for publication do not drastically change, are probably well advised to continue the kind of research and publication—chiefly monographic—that has so profitably engaged them for decades. In French history some archive-based monographs have made contributions recognized by French scholars, but in French esteem none of them rivals their own great dissertations. The cost of travel to and residence in France for holders of weak dollars makes the prospect of our equaling these French models even more remote now and in the future than in the past. For the mature scholar works of synthesis and interpretation still, I believe, hold the greatest promise of professional achievement and recognition. For historians of Italy and Spain the same advice is, I think, timely and appropriate.

The conclusion to be drawn from the generally favorable German reception of American books is less clear. One might judge that it calls for the same recommendation as for British history, but the conditions that created the extraordinary bond of sympathy between German historians and their American colleagues are passing. The generation of refugee professors who trained so many American scholars and whose association with these Americans was, in itself, a recommendation of their works is almost gone. The German-born but American-trained scholars, most of them now senior professors, and their American-born colleagues are training a generation of American historians of modern Germany who are in no way insiders like so many of their predecessors. Moreover, the availability in the United States of the massive collection of German captured documents is no longer an unequaled advantage for Americans. The documents are now available on both sides of the Atlantic, and, having been well worked over and exploited, they no longer hold the great interest that they did in the first postwar decade. The emerging generation of American historians of modern Germany may find themselves in a situation similar to that of their colleagues in French history, and the same advice may become equally appropriate for them.

Russian and Eastern European history presents American scholars with the most difficult choices, and for that very reason raises more compellingly the question, For whom are we American historians of Europe writing? or, put in more practical terms, Who reads what we write? Although we want and try to write for the international community of scholars, we are read largely by our English-speaking colleagues, students, and interested laymen. Perhaps we should heed the judgments of these readers reflected in their reviews and consider what books we as American historians of Europe judge most useful, influential, and important. No two historians’ lists of such books would be identical, but I would venture to say that there would be wide agreement on such volumes as Garrett Mattingly’s The Armada (1959), Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966-69), Robert Palmer’s The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959-64), and H. Stuart Hughes’s Consciousness and Society: The Reorientation of European Social Thought, 1890-1930 (1958). Ranging beyond the scope of the national monographs that have been the usual object of American scholars’ endeavors, most are works of synthesis that genre that Krieger noted as a distinctive American product in the 1920s and 1930s. Should this not be a continuing effort on the part of Americans?

We must consider, too, that national histories are likely to be less important in the decades ahead. In 1979 Theodore Zeldin remarked to a gathering of American historians of France that in fifty years studying the history of France may well be like studying the history of Texas today. Regional history may attract Europeans if movements for regional autonomy on the Continent continue and flourish, but for outsiders the field of interest will more probably be Europe. Transnational history offers rewarding subjects for our research and writing. Many of the volumes in William L. Langer’s The Rise of Modern Europe demonstrate how well the transatlantic scholar can illuminate the whole of European history for both Americans and Europeans. Recently some of our colleagues have given us valued models of monographs on truly European subjects—Jerome Blum’s The End of the Old Order in Rural Europe (1978), Robert Wohl’s The Generation of 1914 (1979), and Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformation in Early Modern Europe (1979). They point, I think, to our best and fairest road ahead.

David H. Pinkney (1914–93) was a scholar of the French Revolution and the postrevolutionary era. He taught at the University of Washington, and co-founded the Society for French Historical Studies, an AHA affiliate.



I am much indebted to my two research assistants, Margaret Merrill and Alden Jencks, who provided me not only with succinct summaries of scores of book reviews but also with many perceptive insights into Soviet and German reception of the works of American historians. A number of friends and colleagues generously helped guide me through fields of history with which I am little familiar or saved me from errors in my own field. I am especially grateful to Charles Delzell, Fred Levy, Charles Mullett, Stanley Payne, Fritz Stern, Peter Sugar, Edward Tannenbaum, Donald Treadgold, Henry Ashby Turner, Joan Ullman, Wayne Vucinich, Daniel Waugh, and Gordon Wright.


  1. For this essay I have defined “American historian” as a historian who is a citizen or long-term resident of the United States or Canada who had his or her training in an American or Canadian university or, in the case of a scholar working in Continental European history, in a British university. []
  2. Pinkney, “The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France,” French Historical Studies, 1 (1958): 11-25, and “The Dilemma of the American Historian of Modern France Reconsidered,” ibid., 9 (1975): 170-81. []
  3. Higby, “The Present Status of Modern European History in the United States,” Journal of Modern History, 1 (1929): 6-7; William H. McNeill, “A Birthday Note,” ibid., 51 (1979): 1-2; Henry Cord Meyer, Five Images of Germany: Half a Century of American Views of German History, American Historical Association Publication, Service Center for Teachers of History, no. 27 (2d ed., Washington, 1960), 13; and John S. Curtiss, “History,” in Harold H. Fisher, ed., American Research on Russia (Bloomington, Ind.,1959), 24-25. []
  4. Krieger, “European History in America,” chapter 4 of John Higham with Krieger and Felix Gilbert, History (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965), 275-76. []
  5. See H. Stuart Hughes, The Sea Change. The Migration of Social Thought, 1930-1965 (New York, 1975), 1-2. []
  6. McNeill, “Birthday Note,” 3, and “Modern European History,” in Michael Kammen, ed., The Past before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States (Ithaca, N.Y., 1980), 96-97. []
  7. Elton, Modern Historians of British History, 1485-1945: A Critical Bibliography, 1945-1969 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1970), 1. []
  8. Hill, Review of William Appleton Aiken and Basil Duke Henning, eds., Conflict in Stuart England: Essays in Honour of Wallace Notestein (London, 1960), in the English Historical Review [hereafter, EHR], 76 (1961): 681; and Pennington, Review of Aiken and Henning, Conflict in Stuart England, in History, 46 (1961): 57. []
  9. Hill, Review of William Haller, Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (London, 1955), in the EHR, 71 (1956): 286, and Review of Laslett, The World We Have Lost (London, 1965), in History and Theory, 6 (1967): 126 (italics added). []
  10. Margaret Ashton, Review of John R. MacCormack, Revolutionary Politics in the Long Parliament (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), and of Blair Worden, The Rump Parliament, 1648-1653 (Cambridge, 1974), in the Historical Journal, 18 (1975): 178; and F. D. Price, Review of MacCaffrey, The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime (Princeton, 1968), in the EHR, 87 (1972): 185. []
  11. Edmund Ions, Review of Richard D. Challener, Admirals, Generals, and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1914 (Princeton, 1973), in the EHR, 91 (1976): 454. []
  12. McNeill, “Modern European History,” 97. [] [] []
  13. Pierre Guiral and Émile Témine, “L’Historiographie du Second Empire,” Raw d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 21 (1974): 2-17. []
  14. Julien, Les Techniciens de la colonisation (XIXe-XXe siecles) (Paris, 1947), vi. []
  15. Meyer, Review of William F. Church, Louis XIV in Historical Thought: From Voltaire to the Annales School (New York, 1976), in the Revue historique, 258 (1977): 198, 200, and Review of Moote, The Revolt of the Judges: The Parlement of Paris and the Fronde, 1643-1652 (Princeton, 1971), ibid., 185, 187. []
  16. Cairns, “Some Recent Historians of the ‘Strange Defeat’ of 1940,” Journal of Modern History, 46 (1974): 71. []
  17. Emmanuel Todd, Interview in L’Express (Paris), February 17, 1979, p. 80. Author of La Chute finale: Essai sur la décomposition de la sphère sovietique (1976) and Le Fou et le prolétaire (1979), Todd is a licencé en histoire in France but holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge University. []
  18. Rémond, “La Chute de la IIIe Republique,” Le Monde. Sélection hebdomadaire (Paris), October 22-28, 1970, as quoted in Cairns, “Some Recent Historians of the ‘Strange Defeat’ of 1940,” 66 n. 26. []
  19. See Maurice Agulhon, Review of Roger Price, ed., Revolution and Reaction: 1848 and the Second French Republic (London, 1975), in Annales: Économies, sociétés, civilisations, 34 (1979): 825. []
  20. See Josef Konvitz, “Biography: The Missing Form in French Historical Studies,” European Studies Review, 6 (1976): 9-20. []
  21. Pierre Guiral, Review of Philip A. Bertocci, Jules Simon: Republican Anticlericalism and Cultural Politics in France (1848-1886) (Columbia, Mo., 1978), and of Benjamin F. Martin, Count Albert de Mun (Chapel Hill, 1978), in the Revue historique, 262 (1979): 255; and Godechot, “La période révolutionnaire et impériale (fin),” ibid., 254 (1975): 413-15, 434-36. []
  22. See Philip Cannistraro, “Il fascimo italiano visto dagli Stati Uniti: Cinquant’anni di studi et di interpretazioni,” Storia contemporanea, 2 (1971): 599-622; Stefania Natale, “La Politica economica del fascimo,” Rivista di storia contemporanea, 2 (1973): 534-55; and Raffaella Carpenetto Firpa, “Intellectuali e mass-media nell’Italia fascista,” ibid., 3 (1974): 356-76. []
  23. Stanley G. Payne, Falange: A History of Spanish Fascism (Stanford, 1961); Joan Connelly Ullman, The Tragic Week: A Study in Anti-Clericalism in Spain, 1875-1912 (Cambridge, 1968); Edward E. Malefakis, Agrarian Reform and the Peasant Revolution in Spain Origins of the Civil War (New Haven, 1970); Gabriel Jackson, The Spanish Republic and the Civil War, 1931-1939 (Princeton, 1965); and Burnett Bolloten, The Grand Camouflage: The Communist Conspiracy in the Spanish Civil War (New York, 1961), republished in a rewritten and enlarged edition as The Spanish Revolution: The Left and the Struggle for Power during the Civil War (Chapel Hill, 1979). []
  24. Higby, “The Present Status of Modern European History,” 7; and Meyer, Five Images of Germany, 13. []
  25. George L. Mosse, “Die amerikanische Geschichtsschreibung–Ein Überblick,” Die Welt als Geschichte, 12 (1952): 271; John L. Snell, “Dissertationen zur deutschen Zeitgeschichte an amerikanische Universitäten, 1933-1953,” Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, 1 (1953): 289; Norman Rich, Germany, 1815-1914, American Historical Association Publication, Service Center for Teachers of History, no. 73 (Washington, 1968), 3; and Meyer, Five Images of Germany, 34-35. []
  26. Krieger, “European History in America,” 306. []
  27. For comment on American interest in this subject by a scholar from the University of Bonn, see Peter G. Thielen, Review of Parer, Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 (Princeton, 1966), in the Historische Zeitschrift, 206 (1968): 417. []
  28. See John A. Maxwell, “On American Studies of the German Labor Movement,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 14 (1974): 593-609. []
  29. Holborn, A History of Modern Germany, vol. 1: The Reformation (New York, 1959), x. []
  30. Wolf-Rudiger Hartmann, “Adolf Hitler: Möglichkeiten seiner Deuting II,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 16 (1975): 586-602. Also see Peter Loewenberg, “Psychohistorical Perspectives on Modern German History,” Journal of Modern History, 47 (1975): 229-79. []
  31. Jean Berenger, “Bulletin historique: L’Empire des Hapsbourg de 1525 à 1918,” Revue historique, 259 (1978): 180. []
  32. Heinrich Benedikt, Review of Robert A. Kann, A Study of Austrian Intellectual History from Late Baroque to Romanticism (New York, 1960), in the Historische Zeitschrift, 193 (1961): 239. []
  33. For representative reviews and literature surveys, see Hans Herzfeld, Review of Robert A. Kann, The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848-1918, 2 vols. (New York, 1950), in the Historische Zeitschrift, 175 (1953): 348-52, and Review of Robert A. Kann, The Hapsburg Empire: A Study in Integration and Disintegration (New York, 1957), ibid., 192 (1961): 668-70; Heinrich Benedikt, Review of Arthur G. Haas, Metternich, Reorganization, and Nationality, 1813-1818: A Story of Foresight and Frustration in the Rebuilding of the Austrian Empire (Wiesbaden, 1963), ibid., 198 (1964): 686-88, and Review of Kann, A Study of Austrian Intellectual History, ibid., 193 (1961): 239-40; Heinrich Lutz, Review of H. G. Koenigsberger, The Habsburgs and Europe, 1516-1660 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1971), ibid., 215 (1972): 408-10; Fritz Blaich, Review of Richard L. Rudolph, Banking and Industrialization in Austria-Hungary: The Role of Banks in the Industrialization of the Czech Crownlands, 1873-1914 (Cambridge, 1976), ibid., 224 (1977): 740-41; Willy Andreas, “Absolutismus und Aufklärung,” Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht, 14 (1963): 725-26; Waldemar Besson, “Deutsche Geschichte (mit Nachbarstaaten),” ibid., 16 (1965): 66-67; and Hans Herzfeld, “1877-1918,” ibid., 451-52. []
  34. Heinrich Bornkamm, Review of Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Nashville, Tenn., 1950), in the Historische Zeitschrift, 173 (1972): 133; Elisabeth Fehrenbach, Review of Hamerow, The Social Foundations of German Unification, 1858-1871: Struggles and Accomplishments (Princeton, 1972), ibid., 218 (1974): 450-51; and Carl-Ludwig Holtfrerich, Review of Feldman, Iron and Steel in the German Inflation, 1916-1923 (Princeton, 1977), ibid., 226 (1978): 752. []
  35. Philip E. Mosely, “The Growth of Russian Studies,” in Fisher, American Research on Russia, 6-10. []
  36. G. I. Belousov, Review of Philip S. Foner, The Bolshevik Revolution: Its Impact on American Radicals, Liberals, and Labor (New York, 1967), in Istoriia SSSR, no. 5 (September-October 1968), 230-32. []
  37. See I. P. Rakhmanova et al., “Ob osveshchenii istorii SSSR v shkol’nykh chebnikakh i posobiiakh FRG,” Istoriia SSSR, no. 3 (May-June 1969), 198-202; Iu. Kh. Kopelevich and N. I. Nevskaia, Review of Boss, Newton and Russia: The Earl Influence, 1698-1796 (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), ibid., no. 3 (May-June 1974), 212-14, and V. M. Novikov, Review of Pomper, Peter Lavrov and the Russian Revolutionary Movement (Chicago, 1972), in Voprosy Istorii, no. 9 (September 1975), 189-91. []