That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession

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Overview

The aspiration to relate the past "as it really happened" has been the central goal of American professional historians since the late nineteenth century. In this remarkable history of the profession, Peter Novick shows how the idea and ideal of objectivity was elaborated, challenged, modified, and defended over the past century. Drawing on the unpublished correspondence as well as the published writing of hundreds of American historians, this book is a richly textured account of what American historians have thought they were doing, or ought to be doing, when they wrote history—how their principles influenced their practice and practical exigencies influenced their principles. Published with the support of the Exxon Education Foundation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Professional historians and aspiring professionals will welcome this immensely informative and thoughtful book." E. Cassara, Choice

"Peter Novick has written an unprecedented and invaluable study of the idea of objectivity among historians...He has written a rich and powerful narrative. No other scholar has made such a marvelous contribution to our understanding of the history profession during its first century." David W. Noble, Reviews in American History

"This is a work marked by admirable clarity, wide-ranging and imaginative research, and thoughtful judgements. At one level it explores a question of central concern to scholars of many disciplines—the quest for objectivity in research and writing. Displaying impressive command of intellectual history, Novick situates this quest in broader currents of American thought over the past century. That Noble Dream is finally a serious and often provocative treatment of the professionalization in the United States of the discipline of history." From the Allen J. Beveridge Award Citation

"Peter Novick has written an unprecedented and invaluable study of the idea of objectivity among historians...He has written a rich and powerful narrative. No other scholar has made such a marvelous contribution to our understanding of the history profession during its first century." David W. Noble, Reviews in American History

"This is a work marked by admirable clarity, wide-ranging and imaginative research, and thoughtful judgements. At one level it explores a question of central concern to scholars of many disciplines—the quest for objectivity in reading and writing. Displaying impressive command of intellectual history, Novick situates this quest in broader currents of American thought over the past century. That Noble Dream is finally a serious and often provocative treatment of the professionalization in the United States of the discipline of history." From the Allan C. Beveridge Award Citation

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521343282
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Series: Ideas in Context Series , #13
  • Pages: 664
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.61 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface; Introduction: nailing jelly to the wall; Part I. Objectivity Enthroned: 1. The European legacy: Ranke, Bacon, Flaubert; 2. The professionalization project; 3. Consensus and legitimation; 4. A most genteel insurgency; Part II. Objectivity Besieged: 5. Historians on the home front; 6. A changed climate; 7. Professionalism stalled; 8. Divergence and dissent; 9. The battle joined; Part III. Objectivity Reconstructed: 10. The defense of the West; 11. A convergent culture; 12. An autonomous profession; Part IV. Objectivity in Crisis: 13. The collapse of comity; 14. Every group its own historian; 15. The center does not hold; 16. There was no king in Israel; Appendix: manuscript collections cited; Index.

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