Published Date

January 1, 1898

From The Study of History in Schools (1898)

We may now briefly consider each one of the main divisions of the general field, and discuss the method in which it may best be handled. This portion of our report might be greatly extended, but we wish to confine ourselves to a consideration of general propositions, which are deemed important because they have to do with the essential character and purpose of the study.


I. Ancient History

Greek and Roman history is taught in a large number of the secondary schools, and in some schools no other branch of history is offered. This preference is explained by the evolution of the curriculum in which the Greek and Latin languages were long the dominant subjects, Greek and Roman history being thrust in at a later time as ancillary to the study of the ancient languages. In some schools the history remains a subordinate subject, coming once or twice a week, and, even then, it is often in the hands of a classical instructor who is more interested in linguistics than in history and has had no training in historical method. The course is apt to be confined to the histories of Greece and Rome; the Orient is not infrequently omitted; the mediæval relations of Rome are usually ignored. The perspective and emphasis within the field covered have been determined by literary and linguistic, rather than by historical, considerations, with the result that the chief attention is devoted to the periods when great writers lived and wrote. Too much time, for example, is commonly given to the Peloponnesian war, while the Hellenistic period is neglected. The history of the early Roman Republic is dwelt upon at the expense of the Empire, although very little is known of the early times. It sometimes seems as if the ghost of Livy were with us yet.

The committee thinks that the time has come when ancient history may be studied independently as an interesting, instructive, and valuable part of the history of the human race. Classical pupils need such a study, not to support their classical work, but to give them a wider and deeper knowledge of the life, thought, and character of the ancient world; and non-classical pupils need the work still more than the classical, for in this study they are likely to find their only opportunity of coming into contact with ancient ideas. We ask, then, that ancient history be taught as history, for the same purpose that any other branch of history is taught-in order that pupils may learn the story of human achievement and be trained in historical thinking.

To bring out the value of ancient history, it is especially important that Greek and Roman history should not be isolated, but that there should be some reference to the life and influence of other nations, and some comprehension of the wide field, which has a certain unity of its own. There should be a short introductory survey of Oriental history, as an indispensable background for a study of the classical people. This survey must be brief, and in the opinion of the committee should not exceed one-eighth of the entire time devoted to ancient history. It should aim to give

  1. an idea of the remoteness of these Oriental beginnings, of the length and reach of recorded history;
  2. a definite knowledge of the names, location, and chronological succession of the early Oriental nations;
  3. the distinguishing features of their civilizations, as concretely as possible;
  4. the recognizable lines of their influence on later times.

The essential factors in this period may perhaps best be seen by concentrating attention first on the kingdoms of the two great valleys-that of the Nile and that of the Tigris and Euphrates-and by bringing in the lesser peoples of the connecting regions as the great empires spread northward and meet. Persia may be taken up afterward, and its conquests may serve as a review of the others.

Although, of course, Greek history should include a short study of early times, and should disclose the growth of Athens and Sparta and the characteristic life of the great classical period, it should not, on the other hand, omit an account of the chief events of the Hellenistic age, but should give some idea of the conquests of Alexander, of the kingdoms that arose out of them, and of the spread of Greek civilization over the East, so important in relation to the influence of Greece upon later times. It should also give the main events in the later history of Greece, and should show the connection between Greek and Roman history. Time for this survey may well be saved by omitting the details of the Peloponnesian war, which crowd so many textbooks. This period should be used largely as connective tissue, to hold Greek and Roman history together; it should be approached first from the Greek side, and afterwards be reviewed in connection with the Roman conquest of the East. Care should be taken to show the overlapping of Greek and Roman history chronologically, and to avoid the not uncommon impression among pupils that Rome was founded after the destruction of Corinth.

The treatment of Roman history should be sufficiently full to correspond to its importance. Too much time, as it seems to the committee, is often spent upon the period of the Republic, especially on the early years, and too little upon that of the Empire. Adequate attention is not always paid to the development of Roman power and the expansion of Roman dominion. Some idea should be given of the organization of the world-state and of the extension of Roman civilization. Recognizing fully the difficulty of this period, and not seeking to force upon the pupils general ideas that confuse them, the teacher should endeavor to make them acquainted, not simply with emperors and prætorian guards, but with the wide sway of Rome; and not so much with the “falling” of Rome, as with the impression left upon western Christendom by the spirit and character of the Eternal City. This, we think, can be done by the careful use of concrete facts and illustrations, not by the use of philosophical generalizations. Probably most of us remember that our impressions from early study were that Rome really gave up the ghost with the accession of Augustus-is that idea due to that good republican Livy, again? And if we studied the Empire at all, we wondered why it took four hundred years and more for her to tread all the slippery way to Avernus, when once she had entered upon the road. To get such an impression is to lose the truth of Rome.

The continuation of ancient history into the early Middle Ages has a manifest convenience in a programme of two years’ work in European history. It secures an equitable adjustment of time and a reasonable distribution of emphasis between the earlier and later periods. If the pupil stops his historical work at the end of the first year, it is desirable that he should not look upon classical history as a thing apart, but that he should be brought to see something of what followed the so-called “Fall” of the Western Empire. Moreover, it is difficult to find a logical stopping place at an earlier date; one can not end with the introduction of Christianity, or with the Germanic invasions, or with the rise of Mohammedanism; and to break off with the year 476 is to leave the pupil in a world of confusion-the invasions only begun, the church not fully organized, the Empire not wholly “fallen.” Hence, from motives of clearness alone, there is a gain in carrying the pupil on to an age of comparative order and simplicity, such as one finds in the time of Charlemagne. Further study of the Middle Ages then begins with the dissolution of the Frankish Empire and the formation of new states.5

II. Mediæval and Modern European History

This field covers a period of a thousand years, and the history of at least four or five important nations; it is necessarily, therefore, a matter of considerable difficulty to determine the best method by which the subject may be handled. Whether the whole field be covered superficially, or only the main lines be treated, it is highly desirable that some unity should be discovered, if possible, or that there should be some central line with which events or movements can be correlated. To find an assured principle of unity is exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible; and it is very likely that writers will continue to disagree as to the best method of traversing this vast area.

One way to get unity and continuity is to study general movements alone, without endeavoring to follow the life of any one nation; but while this method is possible for college classes it may not be found feasible for secondary schools, where pupils have greater difficulty in comprehending general tendencies. Still, we think that certain essential characteristics of at least the mediæval period may perhaps be studied. The period extending from Charlemagne to the Revival of Learning has a “strongly marked character, almost a personality of its own;” and by a selection of proper facts some of the main characteristics may be brought home to the knowledge of the high-school pupils. The teacher or text writer who attempts this method must naturally proceed with great caution, getting general ideas before the students by a judicious use of concrete facts and illustrations, and not failing to give some of the more important events and dates that mark the period. He will probably find that the most characteristic feature of the age is the unbroken dominance of the Roman Church, and should therefore bring out clearly the essential features of its organization, and explain the methods by which it exercised control in all departments of mediæval life. If this is done, as it can and should be done, with care and impartiality, the pupil will receive a valuable lesson in historical truthfulness and objectivity at the same time that he comes to appreciate one of the great moving forces of European history.

This method of treating continental history can be carried throughout the Reformation period by remembering that while that period marks the end of the Middle Ages it also forms the basis for modern European history. This epoch must therefore be taught with both points of view in mind. The main aspects of the time must be brought broadly before the pupil, and he must be led to see that the sixteenth century is a century of transition; that the old order has been swept away; that religious, political, material, intellectual, and social life has been profoundly affected, not only by the teachings of Luther and Calvin, but by the development of the printing press, the use of gunpowder, the voyages of Magellan and Drake, and the change in economic values. The wars of religion mark the last efforts to reestablish united Christendom; and, although the treaty of Westphalia (1648) seems well within the sphere of modern history, it may not improperly be selected as the end of this era of transition.

From the close of this period it will be found very difficult to treat only of movements of a general character affecting the life of Europe. There is now no great institution, like the Church, which forms the centre of Christendom; the different nations no longer belong to a system, but act as independent sovereigns; the development of distinct national life is now of primary concern to the historical student. But even in modern history the method of treating epochs of international importance can be used to some extent. In order that this may be done, it will be necessary, probably, so to connect movements or epochal characteristics with the history of particular nations that the separate development of the European states may be discerned. For example, the period from 1648 to 1715 can be treated as the age of Louis XIV; while the history of the seventeenth-century monarchy, illustrated by the attitude and the administration of Louis, is brought to light, the history of western Europe may be studied in its relations with France. The period from 1715 to 1763 is the age of colonial expansion, of rivalry between France and England; and it can be studied from either England or France as a point of view. The age of Frederick the Great (1740–86) brings before us not only the rise of Prussia and the significance of that great fact, but the theory of enlightened despotism, of which Frederick was an exponent, and which was exemplified by the work of Catherine of Russia, Joseph II, and other enlightened monarchs and ministers. For the period of the French Revolution and the Empire (1789–1815), France again may be taken as the center from which to consider the international relations of European states, the development of the new principles of nationality, the sovereignty of the people, and the liberty of the individual. From 1815 to 1848 Metternich may be regarded as the central figure; the reactionary characteristics of this time will naturally be dwelt upon, but the growth of new principles may also be illustrated, as seen in the establishment of independence in Greece and Belgium, and in the liberal monarchy of Louis Philippe. The system of Metternich broke down in 1848, and from that time to 1871 study is naturally directed to the work of Cavour and Bismarck, to the unification of Italy and Germany, and to topics that may be easily considered in connection with these events. In attempting to give the pupil some idea of modern European politics since the establishment of the German Empire, it may be found advisable to treat Bismarck as the central figure down to 1890, and the Emperor William II as the successor of Bismarck. In this connection, the extra-European ambitions and achievements of Germany since 1871 will serve to bring out the fact that the history of the great European nations is now not only the history of Europe, but the history of Asia and Africa as well.

In some such manner as this it may be possible to study the broad field of European history with special reference to movements or epochs. The outline is not given here as a proposal for a hard and fast system, but rather to illustrate the main principle for which we are contending; namely, that some principle of unity should be discovered which will allow definite concrete treatment, avoiding, on the one hand, philosophical generalization, and, on the other, tangled accounts of detailed events which are made meaningless by the absence of proper connotation.

Another method of securing unity and continuity is to select the history of one nation, preferably that of France, as a central thread, and study the development of its life. It may be that an understanding of the chief transitions in the history of one nation for a thousand years is all that the second-year pupil should be asked to acquire, but probably it will be quite possible for him to acquire more. The Germanic migrations, the growth of the church, the invasions of the Saracens, the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, feudalism, the crusades, the Renaissance, the rise of national monarchies, the religious wars, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the unification of Germany and Italy, the democratic movements of the present century-these and other important topics have immediate relation to French history, and may well be studied in connection with it.

This method of treatment has been followed satisfactorily in some schools. Many teachers have used English history for the purpose with some success, and have thus given to their pupils no small knowledge of what went on upon the Continent. England, however, does not serve this purpose so well as France; we speak of this use of English history simply to show the practicability of the plan. Of course, if any one nation is chosen, the student is apt to get an exalted idea of the part which that particular nation has played; and there is danger, too, of a lack of proportion. But consistency, simplicity, and unity are more essential than general comprehension; or, it might more truly be said, general comprehension and appreciation of proportions are almost impossible for boys and girls, and if simplicity and compactness are wanting there is apt to be no grasp of fundamentals at all. If France be taken as a center, events can be studied in sequence, the primary historical way of looking at things can be cultivated, and the concrete acts of men can be examined and discussed.

If neither of the methods here suggested appeals to the teacher, he must seemingly do one of two things: he must endeavor to get a very general view of the field, give all the main facts and dates, and follow the histories of the nations in parallel lines; or he must omit large portions of the historical field altogether and content himself with the study of a few important epochs. By either of these modes of treatment, any effort to unify is in large measure given up. The first way is not uncommonly followed, but it often results, as the committee thinks, in cramming the memory with indigestible facts and in mental confusion; though an occasional effort to bind the parallel lines together by horizontal lines will help to give unity and wholeness to the structure, or, to change the figure, an occasional view of a cross section will have a like effect. The second method is adopted by some teachers, and they could with difficulty be convinced that it is not the best. They believe that by the intensive study of two or three epochs the best educational results are obtained. The Reformation, the age of Louis XIV, the French Revolution, and the nineteenth century might be selected as characteristic periods. We do not, however, urge this method upon the schools, or insist that it is the proper one. We know that it has been successfully used, and believe that under advantageous circumstances it will be likely to prove satisfactory; although one must regret the failure resulting from this system to give anything approaching a general view of European history.

III. English History

English history, coming in the third year of the school course, and completing the survey of European development, is exceedingly important. Significant as is the history of the English nation in itself, the study may be made doubly useful if the work is so conducted that it serves in some measure as a review of continental history and as a preparation for American history. The pupils in our schools, as we have already suggested, can ill afford to lose such an introduction to the study of the history and institutions of the United States; for, without a knowledge of how the English people developed and English principles matured, they can have slight appreciation of what America means. Even the Revolution, for example, if studied as an isolated phenomenon, is bereft of half its meaning, to say the least, because the movement that ended in the separation of the colonies from the mother country and in the adoption of the Federal Constitution, began long before the colonies were founded, and because the Declaration of Independence was the formal announcement of democratic ideas that had their taproot in English soil.

We believe that considerable, if not the chief, attention should be paid to the gradual development of English political institutions. These words may sound forbidding, but it is to be hoped that the reader of this report will not imagine that we think of plunging the pupil into Stubbs or Hallam. We mean simply that the main features, the fundamental principles and practices of constitutional government, should be studied, and that the steps in its development should be marked. It is not impossible to know the leading features of the work of William I and its results, the principal reforms of Henry II, the chief developments of the thirteenth century, the actual meanings of Tudor supremacy, the underlying causes, purposes, and results of the Puritan Revolution, the work of Pym and Eliot, of Robert Walpole or of Earl Grey. One might almost as well object to mathematics in the high school because quaternions or the integral calculus are hard and abstruse, as to complain of the difficulty of the constitutional history of England because, when studied profoundly, it is, like every other subject, full of perplexities. The treatment must be simple, direct, and forcible, and its supreme object must be to show the long struggle for political and civil privileges, and the gradual growth of the cardinal forms and salient ideas of the English state. One can not forget, even in a high-school course, that England is the mother of modern constitutional government; that by the force of example she has become the law-giver of the nations.

The pupil should be led to see how the state grew in power, how the government developed, and how it became more and more responsive to the popular will and watchful of individual interests. But he ought to see more than merely political progress; he can be made to see, at least to some small extent, how the life of men broadened as the years went by, and can note some of the many changes in habits of living and in industry. Such a reign as that of Elizabeth would yield but little of its meaning if the student should content himself with the hackneyed phrase of “Tudor absolutism” (but half true at the best), and did not see the social and industrial movements, the great human uprising, “the general awakening of national life, the increase of wealth, of refinement and leisure,” in that age when the “sphere of human interest was widened as it had never been widened before … by the revelation of a new heaven and a new earth.” The wise teacher will not neglect the collateral study of literature, but will endeavor to show that it partook of the character of its time, as the best literature is always the best exponent of the age which brings it forth.

In the study of English institutions, it is not wise to dwell at length upon conditions prior to the Norman period, and indeed even the ordinary political events before the time of Egbert should be passed over rapidly. To the secondary pupil the details of what Milton called the “battles of the kites and crows” are dreary and unprofitable; apocryphal martyrdoms, legends of doubtful authenticity, and scores of unpronounceable names are useless burdens to the healthful memory of a boy of sixteen, whose mind promptly refuses assimilation. But the origins of later institutions, so far as they appear in Anglo-Saxon times, are not uninteresting and may well be noticed.

When institutions familiar to us in modern life are fairly established, the pupil’s interest is naturally awakened and time is rightly devoted to their study. The jury, the offices of sheriff and coroner, and like matters, deserve attention; and possibly something may be done even with the development of the common law in early England. But, in all the work, effort should be made to understand institutions that have lived rather than those that have perished; such study cannot fail to bring home a sense of our indebtedness to the past. It is unnecessary, however, to indicate here in detail how the successive steps in the development of English institutions and of English liberties may be brought out; such a presentation would involve a longer treatment than can be given here; but it is not out of place to say that stress should be laid chiefly upon the important constitutional movements and the establishment of principles which mark a stage of progress, and are preparations for institutions, principles, and ideas, that are to follow.

In teaching English constitutional history, it is the institutions of south Britain that demand chief attention; but in teaching the history of the nation as apart from that of the State, it is essential that the common practice of neglecting Welsh, Scottish, and Irish history be abandoned in American schools; otherwise no idea is gained of the composite nature of the nation which has built up the British Empire, and spread abroad the knowledge of English institutions and the use of the English language. Even in studying the early history, care should be taken to bring out the fact that there were such people as the Welsh, Scots, and Irish; and, although it is not advisable to consider in any detail the history of these nations in later times, yet some of the more important events should be dwelt upon; the relationships with south Britain should be kept in mind; and such knowledge of their development should be given that the final welding of all into a single British kingdom becomes intelligible.

It is very desirable that the expansion and the imperial development of Britain should receive adequate notice. Schoolbooks rarely lay sufficient emphasis upon this phase of the subject; in them the real meaning of the American Revolution is usually not disclosed; Dettingen, Fontenoy, and Minden sometimes obscure Louisburg, Quebec, and Plassey. Without Drake, Raleigh, Clive, and Gordon, English history of the last three centuries is not English history at all. The colonial system also, and the general colonial policy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, demand attention in American schools; and the foundation of British dominion in India cannot rightly be made subordinate to party struggles in Parliament or to ministerial successions. Finally, to trace the growth of the British Empire in the nineteenth century; to see how the colonists of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have obtained and used the right of self-government, and how the East India Company’s settlements have developed into an imperial dependency under the British crown-these topics are more important than any study of ordinary party politics within the old sea-girt realm of England.

By paying attention to the continental relations of England it will be possible to review the more important movements of European history, and to give the pupil new views of their meanings. Of course, if these side views of continental conditions are offered too frequently the class may become confused, and lose sight even of the well-worn paths of English constitutional progress. Judicious reference and comparison, however, will not be distracting, but will assist the pupils in appreciating the meaning of what was going on within the four seas. A study of English feudalism will give an opportunity to review what has been learned of the continental characteristics of that institution. The crusades can not be studied as if Richard I were the only king who took the cross. Who can understand the quarrel between Henry I and Anselm if he has no knowledge of the contest between Gregory and Henry of Germany? Can even the Norman conquest be known without some sense of who the Northmen were and what they had been doing? Does one get the force of the great liberal movements of the seventeenth century without some slight comparison between the Charleses of England and the Louises of France? Although this comparative method may be overdone, we believe that careful and judicious comparisons and illustrations will prove illuminating, suggestive, and in all ways helpful.

IV. American History

If American history is studied, as the committee recommends, in the last year of the secondary school, it should be taken up as an advanced subject, with the purpose of getting a clear idea of the course of events in the building of the American Republic and the development of its political ideas. Its chief objects should be to lead the pupil to a knowledge of the fundamentals of the state and society of which he is a part, to an appreciation of his duties as a citizen, and to an intelligent, tolerant patriotism.

It is not desirable that much time should be devoted to the colonial history. The period is especially interesting if viewed as a chapter in the expansion of England, a chapter in the story of the struggle between the nations of western Europe for colonies, commerce, and dominion. It must be viewed, too, as a time when the spirit of self-sufficiency and self-determination was growing-a spirit which accounts for the Revolution and for the dominating vigor of the later democracy. Attention may be paid to the establishment of industrial conditions and of habits of industrial activity, as explaining political differences in subsequent times, especially as explaining the divergence of North and South after constitutional union had been formed. Slight notice should be taken of military campaigns in any portion of the study, though the importance of intercolonial wars can easily be underestimated, and the main facts of other wars, especially, of course, the Revolutionary and the Civil war, cannot be neglected.

In the study of American history it is especially desired that the development of the political organizations be clearly brought forth. Nothing should be allowed to obscure the leading features of our constitutional system. The pupil must see the characteristics of American political life and know the forms and methods, as well as the principles of political activity. He must have knowledge of the ideals of American life, and must study the principles of American society as they have expressed themselves in institutions and embodied themselves in civic forms.

Much has been said about the necessity of studying the social and industrial history of the United States, and some practical teachers have declared that chief stress should be laid upon social and economic features of the past life of the people.6 Such a study is certainly very desirable; the student should come to a realization of the nature of the problems of the industrial world about him, and should see the gradual changes that have been wrought as the years have gone by. History should be made real to him through the study of the daily ordinary life of man, and he should be led to feel that only a very small portion of man’s activities or strivings is expressed by legislatures, congresses, or cabinets; that, especially under a government such as ours, the industrial conditions, the bodily needs, the social desires, the moral longings of the people, determine ultimately, if not immediately, the character of the law and the nature of the government itself. We do not think, however, that economic or social facts should be emphasized at the expense of governmental or political facts. It seems wise to say that the greatest aim of education is to impress upon the learner a sense of duty and responsibility, and an acquaintance with his human obligations; and that a manifest function of the historical instruction in the school is to give to the pupil a sense of duty as a responsible member of that organized society of which he is a part, and some appreciation of its principles and its fundamental character. In other words, while industrial and social phases of progress should by no means be slighted, it is an absolute necessity that a course in American history should aim to give a connected narrative of political events and to record the gradual upbuilding of institutions, the slow establishment of political ideals and practices.

Fortunately, as we have already suggested, many of the most important events in our social and industrial history are so intimately connected with the course of our political history that the two subjects seem not two but one. Changes in modes of industry or in social conditions, improvements in methods of labor, intellectual and moral movements, have manifested themselves in political action, have influenced party creeds, or in some other way affected the forms or the conduct of the body politic. In a democratic country any important change in the life of the people is of importance in political history, because the people are the state. Many of the economic and social changes, therefore, can best be studied as they show themselves in organized effort or are embodied in political institutions. If one looks at political activities or endeavors to understand constitutions, without knowledge of the lives and hopes of the people, the strivings of trade and commerce, the influence of inventions and discoveries, the effects of immigration, he knows but little of the whence or the how, and deals with symbols, not with things.

While we believe, then, that the chief aim should be to give the pupil knowledge of the progress of political institutions, ideas, and tendencies, we believe also that he should know the economic phases of life; that whenever possible, attention should be directed not merely to economic and social conditions, but to economic and social developments; and that those economic, industrial, or social modifications should receive chief attention which have permanently altered social organization, or have become imbedded in institutions, ideas, or governmental forms. We should in our study endeavor to see the full importance, because we see the results, of the fact that Virginia grew tobacco and South Carolina rice, and that the New Englanders were fishermen and went down to the sea in ships; we should try to recognize the meanings of slavery and white servitude, of cotton and the sugar trade, of the steamboat, the railroad, the telegraph, the rotary press, the sewing machine. We should see, if we can, how such things influenced human progress and had effect on the nature, organization, and destinies of the American people.

Now a careful study like this is not possible for students in their early years. In the grades below the secondary school use may well be made of mere descriptions of past times, of houses and apparel, of the snuffboxes, wigs, and silken hose of our great grandfathers; for such pictures help to awaken the imagination, to furnish it with food, to bring home the idea that men and their surroundings have changed, and to prepare the mind for the later growth of historical power and capacities.7 But though the pupil must know bygone conditions and must seek to get a vivid picture of the past, the ultimate aim of history is to disclose not what was, but what became. Totally unrelated facts are of antiquarian rather than of historical interest. In the secondary school, then, and especially in the later years of the course, attention must be paid to movements, and an effort must be made to cultivate the faculty for drawing truthful generalizations, for seeing and comprehending tendencies.

We hope that from this statement no one will get the idea that we are waging war on economic history, or the study of what the Germans have happily called “culturgeschichte.” But we contend that, since there is so much to be done in a single year, there is no time for the study of such past industrial and social conditions—though they may be indeed interesting phenomena-as stand unrelated, isolated, and hence meaningless, and are perhaps without real historical value. Time must rather be given to the important, to conditions which were fruitful of results, to movements, changes, and impulses in industrial as well as in political society. No study of economic forms or social phases should hide from view the political and social ideas for which our country stands, and which have been the developments of our history.

We have entered upon this subject at some length in connection with a consideration of American history, because many of the statements seem important, and because much that is said, while peculiarly applicable to American history, is likewise true of other fields. Especially in the study of English history should effort be made to connect economic and intellectual conditions with the progress of England, to look for changes in the succeeding centuries, and to see how political organization and social needs reacted one upon the other. And yet how often has Wat Tyler’s insurrection been studied as a mere uprising of political malcontents endangering the safety or the bodily ease of young Richard II! How often has the devastation of the North been studied as if it had a bearing only on the fortunes of the Norman dynasty! How often have inventions and discoveries been stated as merely isolated phenomena—such changes, for example, as that marked by the use of pit-coal in the making of iron, as if they were of only scientific interest!

V. Civil Government

Much time will be saved and better results obtained if history and civil government be studied in large measure together, as one subject rather than as two distinct subjects. We are sure that, in the light of what has been said in the earlier portions of this report about the desirability of school pupils knowing their political surroundings and duties, no one will suppose that in what we here recommend we underestimate the value of civil government or wish to lessen the effectiveness of the study. What we desire to emphasize is the fact that the two subjects are in some respects one, and that there is a distinct loss of energy in studying a small book on American history and afterward a small book on civil government, or vice versa, when by combining the two a substantial course may be given.

In any complete and thorough secondary course in these subjects there must be, probably, a separate study of civil government, in which may be discussed such topics as municipal government, State institutions, the nature and origin of civil society, some fundamental notions of law and justice, and like matters; and it may even be necessary, if the teacher desires to give a complete course and can command the time, to supplement work in American history with a formal study of the Constitution and the workings of the national government. But we repeat that a great deal of what is commonly called civil government can best be studied as a part of history. To know the present form of our institutions well one should see whence they came and how they developed; but to show origins, developments, changes, is the task of history, and in the proper study of history one sees just these movements and knows their results.

It would, of course, be foolish to say that the secondary pupil can trace the steps in the development of all our institutions, laws, political theories, and practices; but some of them he can trace, and he should be enabled to do so in his course in American history. How it came about that we have a federal system of government rather than a centralized state; what were the colonial beginnings of our systems of local government; how the Union itself grew into being; why the Constitution provided against general warrants; why the first ten amendments were adopted; why the American people objected to bills of attainder and declared against them in their fundamental law-these, and a score of other questions, naturally arise in the study of history, and an answer to them gives meaning to our Constitution. Moreover, the most fundamental ideas in the political structure of the United States may best be seen in a study of the problems of history. The nature of the Constitution as an instrument of government, the relation of the central authority to the States, the theory of State sovereignty or that of national unity, the rise of parties and the growth of party machinery-these subjects are best understood when seen in their historical settings.

But in addition to this, many, if not all, of the provisions of the Constitution may be seen in the study of history, not as mere descriptions written on a piece of parchment, but as they are embodied in working institutions. The best way to understand institutions is to see them in action; the best way to understand forms is to see them used. By studying civil government in connection with history, the pupil studies the concrete and the actual. The process of impeachment, the appointing power of the president, the make-up of the cabinet, the power of the Speaker, the organization of the Territories, the adoption and purpose of the amendments, the methods of annexing territory, the distribution of the powers of government and their working relations, indeed, all the important parts of the Constitution that have been translated into existing, acting institutions, may be studied as they have acted. If one does not pay attention to such subjects as these in the study of history, what is left but wars and rumors of wars, partisan contentions, and meaningless details?

We do not advise that text-books on civil government be discarded, even when there is no opportunity to give a separate course in the subject. On the contrary, such a book should always be ready for use, in order that the teacher may properly illustrate the past by reference to the present. If the pupils can make use of good books on the Constitution and laws, so much the better. What we desire to recommend is simply this, that in any school where there is no time for sound, substantial courses in both civil government and history, the history be taught in such a way that the pupil will gain a knowledge of the essentials of the political system which is the product of that history; and that, where there is time for separate courses, they be taught, not as isolated, but as interrelated and interdependent subjects. Bishop Stubbs in a memorable sentence has said, “The roots of the present lie deep in the past, and nothing in the past is dead to the man who would learn how the present comes to be what it is.” Though we must not distort the past in an effort to give meaning to the present, yet we can fully understand the present only by a study of the past; and the past, on the other hand, is appreciated only by those who know the present.

Next section: Methods of Instruction

  1. Such a survey of the beginnings of the Middle Ages must needs be quite brief, and should be confined to the primary features of the period-to the barbarian invasions, the rise of the Christian church and of Mohammedan civilization, the persistence of the Empire in the East, and the growth of Frankish power to its culmination under Charlemagne. This practice of combining ancient and mediæval history has been followed in a number of schools, and the results have been satisfactory. []
  2. There is a marked difference between studying economic history and studying economic features or conditions. []
  3. We recognize fully the historical value of many things that seem at first sight unimportant. When, for example, we are told that the old Federalists wore wigs and the Republicans did not, we recognize a fact that marks a change and symbolizes political creeds and party differences. Taine says that about the twentieth year of Elizabeth’s reign the nobles gave up the shield and two-handed sword for the rapier, “a little, almost imperceptible fact,” he remarks, “yet vast, for it is like the change which sixty years ago made us give up the sword at court, to leave our arms swinging about in our black coats.” []