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The Making of a Book-A Medieval Play, by Prof. E. B. White
A School Exhibit in History, by Dr. D. C. Knowlton



History an Essential in Catholic Education, by Rev. Bro. D. Edward


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Published monthly, except July and August, by McKinley Publishing Co., Philadelphia, Pa. Copyright, 1916, McKinley Publishing Co. Entered as second-class matter, Oct. 26, 1909, at Post-office at Phila., Pa., under Act of March 3, 1879


Volume VII.
Number 10.


$2.00 a year. 20 cents a copy.

The World War and the Historians


During the early days of the war many different names were used to designate the conflict. Among those most frequently employed were the War of 1914, the European War, the War of the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. Of late the World War and the Great War seem to be the favorite terms. Both expressions, in significant contrast with those of carlier date, reflect a belief which appears to be nearly universal, that the present war is of vastly more consequence than any of which the present generation has any direct knowledge. To many it seems the most important war of modern history.

This belief in the transcendant importance of the war is plainly due in considerable part to the gigantic scale of the conflict. The tremendous armies, the appalling loss of life, the prodigal expenditure of money have profoundly impressed the imagination of all men, even those most remote from the scene of the struggle. It is, however, safe to affirm that the popular belief in the significance of the war springs chiefly from other considerations which it would take much time to set forth, were I to attempt the task. It will suffice for the purpose of this paper to note that the considerations in question have produced an almost universal conviction that the war has wrought a profound change in the hitherto accepted ideas on almost every important matter of human interest.

In many

things the change of ideas amounts to revolution, and even where the change is least, it is extensive. From every quarter comes the report that with the coming of the war the old order of ideas passed away.

If the observations just made are sound, it will be readily agreed in any gathering of teachers of history, that it behooves us to raise and seriously consider the question: In what way and in what degree has the branch of learning to which we are devoted shared in this great general change?

At the very threshold of the inquiry two difficulties are encountered to which some allusion must be made, in order that there may be no misunderstanding about the character of the views about to be presented.

For the sake of brevity I have alluded to this change of ideas as if it were a completed process. It is in fact barely begun. Many years must elapse before the full character of the change can be accurately measured. The other difficulty lies in the fact that, outside of matter relating to the war, the output of historical scholars since the war began has been so small and has consisted so largely of things practically completed prior to the war, that there is no thoroughly

satisfactory basis for a test of one's theories. What I propose to offer you, then, is not an analysis of the effect of the war as shown in the writings of the historians, but an expression of my personal opinion as to what is most likely to be the character of the change now in progress.

At this point I should not be in the least surprised if someone should exclaim in fine scorn: "An historian turned prophet." Having often repeated as my personal profession of faith Samuel Rawson. Gardiner's dictum that prophecy is no part of the business of the historian ("History of England, 16021642,” I, pp. V-VIII), I would, nevertheless, be entitled to follow the example of the courts when it becomes imperative to set aside their own earlier decisions. I could avoid reversing by distinguishing. But the process would take time. I prefer to assume that it is permissible and may be worth while to undertake the very hazardous task of trying to indicate the character which history writing and teaching, as a consequence of the war, are likely to exhibit for some years to come.

First of all, it seems to me that out of the war must come a great searching of mind and of heart among historians as to their conception of history and of its methods.

Although long predicted, it is, I think, very clear that the war came as a great surprise to most men. Even the best informed were taken unawares. But any examination of the causes of the war shows that it had its roots deep in the past and was the natural, if not inevitable, outcome of events which had received much attention from historians. Why then was the world so much surprised when the war came? A in the fact that historians dealing with the events considerable part of the answer, I think, may be found which we now see led up to the war did not handle them in a way to bring out their significance. This is very manifest for such comparatively recent events as the creation of the Triple Alliance by Bismarck in the early eighties, the formation of the Dual Alliance between Russia and France ten years later, the transformation of the Dual Alliance into the Triple Entente in 1904-1907, the Morocco crisis of 1905-6 and of 1911, the Turkish Revolution of 1908, and the Balkan wars. It is equally true of the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the Franco-Prussian war, the Congress of Vienna, and numerous other events, many of which were still more remote. That the historians failed to bring out the real significance of these events is due, I think, to their conception of history.

A discussion of the conception of history prevailing among historians would carry us far afield. For my present purpose it will suffice to state my belief that there has not existed that clear-cut, definite conception which was to be desired, and that to this defect is chargeable, in large measure, the failure of the historians to relate the history of the events, which we now perceive to have been the causes of the war, in such a manner as to let men see on what precarious foundations the peace of the world rested.

From a perception of this defect must come a new conception of history. The conception which it seems. to me must come is not an hitherto unheard of idea. It is new in the sense that while many historians would have been ready enough to subscribe to it as a principle, very few acted upon it in practice. The new conception is that history is an explanation of the present by a study of the past. There was surprise when the war came because men did not understand the world in which they lived. That they failed to understand it was due in very large degree to the failure of the historians to make their work explain the real character of certain features of the existing social order which were dangeraus to the maintenance of peace. A world war, though often discussed, was regarded as an impossibility.

The method most in vogue among historians of the present day, or at any rate the one which they profess to follow, is usually called the scientific method. Omitting as impossible in my time limit, and as probably unnecessary in this company, any description of the scientific method, it will suffice for the purpose of the present occasion to point out that the use of the term scientific method carries with it two implications: first, that it is possible for the historian to undertake his investigations in a spirit as free from bias as is possible for the chemist or mathematician; secondly, that working in this spirit it is possible to obtain a body of results approximating in validity those reached by mathematical or chemical research. Now if the method really possesses the virtues claimed for it and if the historians have been really practicing it, might it not have been reasonably expected that the historians in discussing the causes, progress, and problems growing out of the war would have exhibited a large measure of freedom from the passions which naturally enough have laid hold upon the masses in the belligerent countries? Without demanding from the historians any superhuman exemption from the frailties of mankind and making large allowance for the strong emotional appeal of the conflict, it would seem reasonable to hold that if the scientific method was really working according to theory the historians ought to have shown themselves relatively free from the grosser forms of national bias, particularly from those which manifest themselves in distortion of evidence, suppression of unwelcome facts, and lavish ascription of sinister motives to antagonists. That the historians did not show any marked superiority in these matters is well known. A capital illustration of this shortcoming on their part

is afforded in the "Appeal to the Civilized World," issued shortly after the beginning of the war by ninety-three distinguished German scholars, including such eminent historians as Harnack, Lamprecht, Max Lenz, Eduard Meyer, and Wilamowitz. That appeal contains these remarkable assertions:

"It is not true that we (the Germans) trespassed in neutral Belgium. It has been proved that France and England had resolved on such a trespass, and it has likewise been proved that Belgium had agreed to their doing so."

I need not take time to point out the manifold absurdities in these statements. For the assertion that Germany did not trespass in Belgium some allowance may be possible on the supposition that perhaps trespass means something different to Germans from what it means to other men. For the assertion that it had been proved that France and England had resolved to trespass in Belgium, it may be possible to offer some explanation in human nature, though not in scientific method, on the supposition that to the German mind just now it does not require very convincing evidence to establish that point. But what possible explanation can there be for the assertion that it has been proved that Belgium had agreed to the intended French and English trespass? The evidence subsequently published by the German government in support of that assertion does not in the least support the claim.

My own reading leads me to share in the prevailing impression in the United States that, in utilizing their historical knowledge and training for a satisfactory handling of the problems raised by the war, the historians of Germany have failed more grievously than have those of France and England. But on both sides and in neutral countries there has been such a conspicuous failure on the part of historians to show any considerable exemption from the passions of the hour that one may well conclude either that the historians have been claiming for history more than should be expected of it or that the methods actually employed by the historian fall far short of the perfection supposed to have been reached. Which alternative contains the truth of the matter?

My own belief is that historians have been claiming for history, pursued according to the scientific method, much more of finality than is warranted. In this matter the historians seem to me to have sinned along with the other social scientists, the economists, political scientists, and sociologists. All have claimed too much for the results of the own labors. While recognizing that a strong argument may be advanced in behalf of the view that the fault has been in defective application of the scientific method by historians rather than in the method itself, I am strongly of the opinion that too much has been claimed for the method.

If I am right and this view comes to be accepted, what change will come from a general recognition of the limitations of the scientific method? Will it be abandoned or modified? I believe that it will be

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