Published Date

January 1, 1898

From The Study of History in Schools (1898)

By Lucy M. Salmon1

The paper is largely based on a personal visit extending over three months’ time and including 32 gymnasia in 18 different places; in 23 of these gymnasia 70 classes in history were heard, having an aggregate attendance of about 1,500 boys. It was the plan to select places differing widely in conditions, from small provincial towns to large commercial and educational centers, and also those representing quite diverse political and religious interests. In some cases all the gymnasia in the city were visited; in some the work in every class in history was seen; in others the same class was seen in several successive lessons in history; the work of one class was visited in history and in other subjects, and also all of the classes in history taught by one instructor; the same instructor was heard in other subjects as well, and different sections of the same class taught by different instructors—every possible combination was made as regards town, school, instructor, and class. This has been supplemented by a careful study of the school laws and programmes of the twenty-six States making up the German Empire, including those of the twelve provinces that form the Kingdom of Prussia. Except for incurring the charge of generalizing from one particular, a visit to one school and the study of one programme would have sufficed. There are indeed variations in detail, but the fundamental principles in the arrangement of the work in history are the same-a uniformity that is especially noteworthy in view of the contrast it presents to our own system, or lack of system. The result of this study gives a composite photograph of the work in history in the schools for boys, which bears a striking likeness to each of the individual parts making up the photograph.

The reign of Louis Philippe began without glory and ended without honor; but for one thing it is entitled to the grateful remembrance not alone of France, but of America as well. In 1831 M. Cousin, holding a government commission, visited the schools of Prussia, Saxony, and Frankfort, and on his return published those celebrated reports which for the first time made the German system of education familiar in France and subsequently in this country. From that time to the present our interest in German education has been a growing one.

It has, however, been naturally the German universities whose organization Americans have studied—the German schools have less often been visited, and their place in the educational system is less clearly seen. Just what this part is, however, must be briefly recalled in order to understand the place in the curriculum occupied by history.

The German gymnasium, whether the gymnasium proper with its course based on the classics and mathematics, the real gymnasium which omits Greek from its curriculum, or the oberrealschule which omits both Latin and Greek, the German school, whatever its variety, takes the boy when nine years old, and at eighteen sends him to the university, the higher technical schools, or into business life with a well-rounded symmetrical education.

This symmetrical education is made possible through the careful construction of the school curriculum. The curriculum is a sacred thing, not lightly formed or to be tampered with when made, for into it goes the best trained and most expert educational service that the State can command. The curriculum in every State is the same in the same class of schools, and the uniformity among the twenty-six different State systems is far greater than among the forty-five States of America. It may or it may not be due to the conscious influence of Herbart—in many places there is a positive disclaimer of all such influence—but, whatever the cause, the result is everywhere a curriculum that gives a compact, articulated, organic system in strong contrast to our own. The result may be in part attributed, in spite of disclaimers, to the influence of Herbart, and in part to the fact that the Germans, as individuals, are less prone than the Americans to fly off on tangents of their own, and consequently have a capacity for working together that shows itself as strongly in educational as in municipal affairs. The curriculum is a unit; it is complete in itself, but it represents at the same time one stage in the development of the educational system. This fact must never be lost sight of, or the corresponding fact that the American programme of studies presents an absolute contrast to the German Lehrplan. The American programme is often regarded as a convenient vehicle for conveying the instruction desired by interested parties. Does a State legislature believe that the schools exist for the purpose of implanting patriotism, they are forthwith commanded to teach American history; if a group of business men believe that the schools should have a bread-and-butter aim, stenography and typewriting are made compulsory; if one branch of the church considers that the schools exist for the purpose of teaching religion, the study of the catechism is demanded; if an association deems that it is the first duty of the schools to inculcate the principles advocated by that association, it asks for the study of physiology with special reference to the injurious effects of alcoholic drinks. The American programme represents the idiosyncrasies of individuals, not the wisdom of the many. It must therefore be seen that the place occupied by history in the German gymnasia, unlike its place in the American schools, is given it because the most eminent educators of Germany have agreed upon the place it ought to have in the educational system.

What, then, are the characteristic features of history instruction in Germany, especially those that differ from instruction in history in America?

Dr. Holmes was wont to say that it was necessary, to begin a boy’s education with the education of his grandfather. In a similar way, any discussion of history in the German schools must begin with the German boy—a boy much like other boys, but living in a military atmosphere, where obedience is the first law of men, as order is heaven’s first law elsewhere—a boy who, from his earliest recollections, is taught that every one obeys some one else—”Children obey their parents, the wife obeys her husband, the husband obeys the king, the king obeys God”—a boy who is taught respect for authority, but a boy who is also taught that self-control and self-knowledge are as much a part and an object of education as is the training of the mind. Until the boy is ready for the university—that is, until he is 18 or 19 years old—he is a minor; he is so regarded by his instructors and he so regards himself. He is under a constant supervision that, to the American boy, would be intolerable; he is in the gymnasium to be taught, and it is not expected that before leaving the gymnasium he should express his personal opinion on any subject under consideration.2 Instruction thus seems to be freed from some of the questions of discipline that accompany instruction here, and the instructor is unhampered by the apparent necessity of sacrificing legitimate drill to the immediate object of maintaining a specious interest.

The German instructor thus finds at hand a military system that is of help in the method of instruction, and he also finds a programme of studies arranged by expert educators and unaffected by political or religious considerations; a programme the keynote of which is concentration—concentration of work, concentration of thought, concentration of time.

The part, then, that history plays in the curriculum is not an independent one, but one correlated with other subjects. Yet the place that each subject has in this articulated system is clearly understood and defined. In historical instruction, according to the educational laws of Saxony, a knowledge of the epoch-making events in the history of the world, and of their mutual relation, origin, and development, is to be specially sought. The Prussian programme of 1882 states the object to be “to arouse in the pupils respect for the moral greatness of men and nations, to make them conscious of their own imperfect insight, and to give them the ability to read understandingly the greatest historical classics.” This position Prussia has modified by the programme of 1892 into one involving special emphasis on the development of Prussia’s greatness and the centering of the new national life about her; but her former position is the one rather held by the other German States. History is thus to be an organic part of the school curriculum, but it is also to have a distinct definite aim of its own. That aim is to be the placing of high ideals before the boy, the development of his moral character through the study of these ideals; it is to be a part of “liberal culture and is to serve as a means of intellectual training.”

The work in history in the gymnasium itself must be considered under the two heads, subject-matter and method.

As regards subject matter, the nine years may be divided into three groups, the first group comprising the first two years, the second the following four years, and the third the last three years. During the first two years the boy, then nine or ten years old, is given the legends from classical and German mythology. The next four years form a second group. The boy during this period is from eleven to fourteen years old, and he begins a systematic study of Greek and Roman history, followed by a study of mediaeval and modern history, often with special reference to the history of Germany. The last three, when the boy is from fifteen to eighteen years old, form the third group, and in this group he has a second course in classical, mediaeval, and modern history.

This, then, gives us the three concentric circles of historical instruction of Germany. During the first circle of two years no attempt is made to give formal instruction in chronological sequence; the work is introductory to that of the subsequent course, and it is intended by it to bring before the imagination of the boy in a series of vivid pictures the deeds of great heroes, to fill his thoughts with them, and thus to lay the foundation for the later more connected historical instruction.3

This systematic instruction begins with the third year in the gymnasium, and during the remainder of his course the work in history and geography forms the two regular concentric circles. The object in the first of these is to give a connected account of the origin and development of the great events in the world’s history, and especially of the relation of Germany to these events.4 The work of the four years, therefore, begins at the beginning, and comprises a study for one year of Greek and Roman history, with the addition of the little necessarily pertaining to it from the history of the Oriental peoples. The next two years—that is, the boy’s fourth and fifth years in school—are given to medieval and early modern history; but mediaeval history is treated as predominantly German, and the theory that the history of the Middle Ages is, in reality, a history of Germany is commonly accepted. With the close of the Middle Ages the point of view is changed somewhat, since modern history can not be treated from the distinctively German standpoint, as can the previous period. But if modern history can not be treated as world history, it is, at least, always regarded and treated from the European standpoint.5 Especially during the last of the four years is the material handled from the general European, not from the special German or Prussian, point of view.6 During the second circle of systematic study, or the third circle, if the introductory work is considered, the boy, at the age of fifteen, begins “the second wandering through the broad field of history,” but with the object of laying the foundations deeper, of giving a broader outlook, of understanding present conditions through their development in the past, of building upon the love of the fatherland that has been awakened in the earliest years a sense of personal responsibility to it, of inspiring high ideals and creating ethical standards.7 Professor Jager has well pointed out8 that every age has its special favorite ideas and prevailing interests, and that these necessarily affect the historical instruction in the higher schools.9 To-day such interest is social and economic, and it is, therefore, to be expected that social and economic questions shall be treated with a certain partiality, and this is especially seen during the second review of historical events.

What is the difference in the point of view in the three surveys of history? It may perhaps be said that in the first circle heroes, in the second, states—particularly the German state—in the third circle, the world, form the objective points. High ideals of action are the end sought in the first circle, a connected account of the great events in the world’s history that of the second, a knowledge of the civilizing influences that have prevailed in the world’s history that of the third. If the center of each circle is sometimes Germany, and if it is a part of the imperial theory that the radii of the circle should begin at the circumference and verge toward the center, it is more often found in practice that the center forms only a starting point for the construction of the radii diverging to the circumference. Especially in German Switzerland is an appreciation found of the fact that it is unwise to distort history in order to magnify Switzerland or to foster an exaggerated patriotism. In Germany itself, while there is acquiescence in the imperial theory that the cultivation of the national spirit should be a special aim of historical instruction, there is also a recognition of the fact, as Professor Russell has pointed out, that the theory is pedagogically shortsighted, “that patriotism should be more than mere enthusiasm, more enduring than the frothy exuberance of spirits that arises from the contemplation of great deeds; that love of country and of king depends upon a firm and unchangeable character.”10 If Sedan day is observed as an event marking a victory over a rival power, rather than as a day that means the unification of Germany, it is because that event is, as yet, necessarily regarded at short range; if the day is universally celebrated throughout the German schools; it is because the consciousness is yet strong that it was the Prussian schoolmaster that won Alsace and Lorraine. That exalted patriotism that calls the whole world akin does not immediately follow a triumphant national victory, but Germany will soon look at those events of German history that concern her immediate present in their true perspective.

What has the boy gained as a result of this threefold division of subject-matter into concentric circles?

Compulsory education keeps him in school until he is 14 years old—that is, until he has completed the introductory work and the first circle of systematic study of history. If circumstances then compel him to leave the gymnasium, as 40 per cent of the German boys are obliged to do,11 he has in hand such an outline of the great events in the world’s history as ought to save him from premature or hasty judgments. But if he completes the gymnasial course he has gained not only this, but he has learned something of the deeper meaning of history. He has a knowledge of the art and literature of Greece that has rounded out his partial knowledge of these subjects gained through the Greek classics he has read; he understands the organization of the government of the Romans and what has been contributed to the civilization of the world by that eminently practical people; the Middle Ages are not to him Dark ages, for he understands the place in that period occupied by the Holy Roman Empire; modern history means to him not the unrelated history of Germany alone, but it means the study of new conditions made possible through the discovery of America and the industrial development of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; he compares the centralization of power under Louis XIV with the low, inorganic form of political life in Germany during the corresponding period, and learns the odds against which Germany has struggled in reaching her present position. He has, from the time he was 9 years old, had constantly put before him for nine years these developments, and has been made to realize “that mankind is an ethical whole.” The method has been called one of concentric circles, but is rather one of an ever-ascending spiral, from the apex of which an outlook over the past is obtained. To change the figure, the three surveys are the three readings through which any legislative measure must pass before it becomes an act accomplished. As the three readings have given ample time for discussion, for sifting essentials from nonessentials, for presenting all possible arguments for and against a proposed measure, so the three surveys must leave in the boy’s mind a residuum of all that is best in the world’s history, and this residuum becomes his abiding possession.

The question naturally arises as to how far, in the selection of the subject-matter, the psychological condition of the boy is considered, and how far both matter and treatment are adapted to this condition. It must have been inferred, from what has already been said, that this psychological condition has not only never been lost sight of, but that it has been made the basis of arrangement at every step of the way. “The primary condition of historical perception is the readiness to think or to feel the past as present,” says Professor Jager.12 This ability to feel the past, the development of the historical imagination, is the object of the instruction in the first part of the course. During the second division of the course, “the instruction as a whole,” says Professor Jager, “must give the boy forceful suggestions, strong impulses; must work from different sides for the one end of giving a check and a counterpoise to the distracting, self-willed, and disintegrating tendencies that beset this time of life.”13 With the broadening out of the boy’s sympathies and interests, he is brought, during the latter part of his course, face to face with those complex questions of present interest for the consideration of which there is needed a mind stored with knowledge, and the boy learns “a respect for knowledge for the knowledge’s own sake.14

The importance that is attached to historical instruction is evident not only from the care with which the course of study is planned, but from the time allotted to it. This is an average of three hours per week, including the time given geography, during the entire nine years’ course, a total of twenty-seven hours during the course, or one-ninth of the entire time throughout the course is given to these subjects.15

But it must not be inferred that the historical instruction the boy receives is confined to the three hours per week of formal instruction in this line. Extreme specialization has no place in a German gymnasium. Instead of each person imagining that he has preempted a portion, large or small, of the field of knowledge, and keeping jealous watch lest someone else trespass on his preserves, each instructor seeks to bind his subject with every other. In the hours allotted to religion the boys read from the Greek New Testament; and Oriental history, as well as church history, is taught, though these are in the history classes proper. Herodotus and Livy are not regarded as mere vehicles for teaching Greek and Latin construction, but are taught as Greek and Roman history, and much of English and French history is taught through these languages.

But even this correlation of history with every other subject is not all. One may study the programmes and visit classes, and yet not understand or see clearly all of the influences at work that make for history. Maps, charts, collections of pictures freely used; busts of all the authors read in the school; quotations from great men inscribed on the walls of class rooms; the memorizing of historical poems and passages from historical dramas; the observance of national and historic holidays; most of all, frequent excursions to points of historical interest—all this is history, all these are influences that make history unconsciously grow into the boy and become a part of his very self. History is developed in him, he is developed through it.

The subject of method of instruction must not be omitted, although it will demand but a brief consideration.

The method is in essence the same throughout the course. In the first part it is story-telling, pure and simple; in the second part it is pure narration; in the third part it becomes more formal and resembles somewhat a college lecture. During the first of the hour the class is questioned on what has been narrated during the previous lesson; then comes the narration of fresh material, and, with the younger boys, the hour is closed. with questions on what has just been narrated. The theory is that the boy learns best from the living voice, that thus his interest is aroused and maintained, and that history in this way becomes to him a living, life giving presence. The work of the teacher is supplemented by the use of a text-book (Leitfaden), but this contains only the barest outline of the events and is in no sense a text-book in the American usage of the term. The instructor can not expect that the boy will spend more than fifteen or twenty minutes in preparation of his history work, and therefore he is practically restricted to the use of the narrative method. It is the German theory that an excessive amount of outside study should not be demanded or given; that it is best for the boys to get as much education from each other as possible; that, since one plans to become a lawyer, another a physician, a third a business man, and a fourth a teacher, each should talk over with the other his plans for the future, and thus become educated in ways not reached by the school.

The narrative method does not lend itself easily, especially in the higher grades, to securing some of the best results that are secured in the best American schools. It must seem to Americans to fail in developing the power of independent judgment, and to afford no opportunity for the exercise of that faculty known in the child as curiosity and in the man as research. The boy absorbs and assimilates, but the creative faculty lies dormant. That this should be so, however, is a part of the German theory of education. But the German method does secure certain admirable ends. On the positive side it results in concentration of attention, alertness of mind, quickness of apprehension, and an enviable ability to grasp the salient features of a subject considered as a whole. The double and triple course gives constant opportunity for comparison, especially during the last survey, and this basis for comparison and the constant advantage taken of it are one of the most valuable parts of the method. On its negative side the German method has the advantage that it leaves little room for crudity of opinion or for generalizations from insufficient data.

The study of history in the German gymnasia thus shows seven distinctive features: First, the entire field of history is covered in three distinct surveys; second, the work in history is correlated with every other subject in the curriculum and in a sense becomes its unifying force; third, ample time is given for its consideration, and it receives the same serious treatment as do other subjects in the course; fourth, the division of material and the method of treatment are based on the boy’s psychological development; fifth, the narrative method of instruction gives the boy a vivid impression of reality of the past; sixth, the course is complete in itself, and at the same time it forms an ideal preparation for university work; seventh, every teacher of history is an absolute master of the subject taught.

What are the lessons to be learned by Americans from this examination of historical instruction in the German gymnasia?

The first great lesson we should all do well to heed is this: That the course in history serves the double purpose of being complete in itself and of being an ideal preparation for university work.

The course is complete in itself; because, if the boy does not go beyond the gymnasium, or if he leaves at the end of the sixth year in school, he has gained a wide outlook into the future because of this thorough study of the past; he has gained a proper historical perspective and he has learned that “hinter dem Gebirge sind auch Leute.” He has resources within himself that must contribute not only to the upbuilding of his own character, but that must redound to the advantage of the community in which his lot is cast. How great an advantage this broad outlook is can be seen by comparing the course in history in the gymnasia with that of the normal schools, where only German history is taught. One can but feel that the young men who are to be the teachers in the volksschule are losing much, that the volksschule are losing much through them, when the historical horizon is bounded by Germany. Such minds must, in middle life, be stunted and dwarfed because in early years they have lacked that mental and spiritual inspiration that the study of the largest life must give. Equally stunted and dwarfed must be the minds of our own American boys and girls when they leave school at the end of the grammar grade with a knowledge, insufficient at best, of only American history. It must indeed be said that he who knows only American history does not at all know that history. “The profounder our study of ourselves,” says Professor Sloane, “the stronger will grow our conviction of the organic relation between our own history and that of the world.”16 American history is in the air—a balloon sailing in midheaven—unless it is anchored fast to European history. It is no more true to say that American history begins in 1492 than it is true to say that a man’s life begins when he goes into business for himself. English history does not begin with the reign of William III, or French history with the Third Republic, or German history with the establishment of the present Empire. A new stage of development in each country is marked by these events, and the development of Europe on the New World soil is but a corresponding one. America, like Europe, is the heir of all the ages, and the American boy has the right to enter into his inheritance. The great demand in industrial life to-day is for such a change in methods of work as will have regard to the effects of work on the laborer rather than the results on the product. To the attainment of this end the work of William Morris and of John Ruskin has been directed, and to the attainment of a similar end must the work of educators tend.

How disastrous this restricted view of the past may be on our political, industrial, and educational growth is easily imagined when it is recalled that it was estimated, in 1886, that 80 per cent of the pupils in the public schools never reach the high school.17 Of those who pass through the high school but a small proportion enter college. But it is not only possible, it is more than probable, that even this small percentage who go through the high school, or through college, will complete their school or college life knowing nothing of historical conditions or developments. A man with this lack of preparation may enter Congress and legislate on financial matters in absolute ignorance of the history of finance; he legislates on labor questions with no knowledge of the agrarian difficulties of Rome, the peasants’ rebellions of the Middle Ages, or the national workshops of Louis Blanc. He legislates gold-standard educators out of office at the West, and silver advocates out of office in the East, not knowing that for four hundred years Luther and the Wartburg have stood for independence of judgment and the search for truth. Not only is he lacking in the actual knowledge that history affords, but he lacks still more that mental training that history gives in analysis, comparison, classification; in holding the judgment in suspense until all sides of a question have been presented. The German boy is given both a body of facts and a mental training that ought to keep him from superficial judgments or hasty conclusions.

But the special object of the German gymnasial course is to prepare for the university.18 And here, in the case of the boy who enters the university, as in the case of the boy who does not, the German arrangement of historical work seems superior to our own. The university knows precisely what work in history has been done, and therefore it can assume this admirable preparation and shape its advanced courses accordingly. But the American university or college makes its entrance requirement in history in deference to the antiquated idea that preparation in history should be the one that will most assist the study of Latin and Greek, and that every boy should know something of the history of his own country. The boy therefore studies American history in the grammar grades, and Greek and Roman history in the high school—an arrangement of studies radically wrong, because false chronologically and false in principle. On such a basis it is impossible to build up a systematic course of history in the college or the university without doing in the college a part of the work that should have been done before entrance. “The larger universities,” says Professor Sloane, in speaking of American institutions, “have an imposing array of historical chairs, but they do not demand as a condition of entrance to their lecture rooms a thorough knowledge of general history.”19 College students everywhere must feel the irrelevancy as well as the inadequacy of their work in history before entering college, when considered as a preparation for that college work.

This conclusion must follow: The work in history in American schools will never be on a rational basis until, as in Germany, it recognizes the double purpose that history in these schools is to serve; until it is so organized as to give the boy or girl who does not go to college a well-rounded conception of the epoch-making events in the world’s history; until it plans its college entrance requirements in history with reference to the college work in history; until it makes the course of history in the schools identical for those who do, and for those who do not, go to college; until it correlates the work done in history with the work of every other subject in the school curriculum.

Next section: Appendix IV

  1. This paper, prepared for the committee, was read at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association held at Cleveland, Ohio, December 28-30, 1897, and afterwards printed in the 1897 Report and in the Educational Review. []
  2. The director of one gymnasium said: “Our boys are not encouraged to speculate about what historians themselves do not know.” Another remarked: “It is inconceivable that boys in the gymnasium should discuss political questions about which mature men disagree.” I did not hear a boy asked his opinion on any subject in the class room, or a single boy ask a question; everything was apparently given and accepted on authority. []
  3. Prussian Lehrplan, 1892, § 7. []
  4. Die Schulordnung fur die humanistischen Gymnasien im Konigreich Bayern, 1891, § 14. []
  5. I Oskar Jager. Geschichte, 82-83. []
  6. Ibid., 49. []
  7. Das hohere Schulwesen im Konigreiche Sachsen, 1889; Lehrplane and Lehraufgaben fur die hoheren Schulen, Berlin, 1892. []
  8. Geschichte, 74. []
  9. This is illustrated by the interest taken during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in dogmatic religious questions; at the close of the eighteenth century, in literary and aesthetic subjects; during the early part of the present century, the time of the predominance of the Hegelian philosophy, in the philosophy of history. The history of each period shows more or less clearly the prevailing interests of the age when it was written. []
  10. “History and Geography in the Higher Schools of Germany,” The School Review, May, 1897. []
  11. The School Review, October, 1897. []
  12. Geschichte, 9. []
  13. Ibid., 28. []
  14. Ibid., 67. []
  15. The following list will indicate the amount of time allotted to history in the different gymnasia:

    • Altenburg, Friedrichs-Gymnasium 27
    • Berlin, Känigstädtisches Gymnasium 26
    • Bonn, Oberrealschule 32
    • Bremen, Gymnasium 34
    • Brunswick, Gymnasium Martino-Katharineum 26
    • Frankfurt, Goethe Gymnasium 30
    • Freiburg, Oberrealschule 27
    • Hamburg, Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums 28
    • Heidelberg, Gymnasium 24
    • Jena,Gymnasium Carolo-Alexandrinum 28
    • Landeshut, Realgymnasium 21
    • Leipzig, Nicolai-Gymnasium 30
    • Magdeburg, Guericke-Oberrealschule 30
    • Munich, Königliches Maximilians-Gymnasium 25
    • Neu-Strelitz, Gymnasium Carolinian 25
    • Oldenburg,Grossherzögliches Gymnasium 27
    • Rudolstadt, Fürstliches Gymnasium 26
    • Strassburg, Protestantisches Gymnasium 25
    • Stuttgart, Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium 25
    • Weimar, Wilhelm-Ernstisches Gymnasium 28

    It is thus seen that while the general average is 27 hours, 11 gymnasia have 27 or more hours, while only 9 have less. []

  16. “History and Democracy,” American Historical Review, I, 22. []
  17. F. N. Thorpe, The Study of History in American Colleges, 232, 233. []
  18. “If one seeks to set forth in a word the real specific purpose of gymnasial training, it is clearly to prepare for the university.”—Oskar Jager, Geschichte, 4. []
  19. “History and Democracy,” American Historical Review, I, 18. []