Truth in History

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Like scholars in other fields, historians have long occupied themselves in self-justification. In a society which calibrates all measures by a single standard, the proof of scientific worth became relevance, which in turn was interpreted as a search not for truth but for political correctness. In a blistering professional critique of this tendency in academic scholarship, perhaps the first of its kind, Oscar Handlin offers an analysis that, if anything, has grown more pertinent over the past decade.

In seventeen chapters, written with the brilliant assurance of a master craftsman, Handlin shows why the turn to partisanship and meaning has undermined the calling of historical research. As his new introduction makes clear, partisanship has taken the best and brightest from the field into different callings. Both widely heralded upon its initial appearance as well as attacked with vigor, Truth in History emanates from a half-century’s experience of reading, writing, teaching, researching, and publishing in history and related disciplines. The passage of time has only confirmed the concerns of Handlin and the accuracy of his predictions for the field. This book will be valuable for sociologists, economists, political scientists, and historians. It is a must read for those who contemplate a life of scholarship in liberal arts.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Using his considerable talents as both scholar and critic, [Handlin] offers both thoughtful reflections on American historiography since its earliest days and harsh attacks upon those modern scholars who have, he claims, forgotten that the historian's first task is to search for 'truth.' . . . Few historians will read this book without finding idas and judgments with which they will disagree. But neither can any historian afford to ignore the challenging and eloquent warnings of one of the profession's most respected voices. The historian's task is, as Handlin claims, to pursue truth. But it is also to provoke thought. This important and controversial book will certainly do that." —Alan Brinkley, Boston Globe "On almost any page, no matter how randomly chosen, a historian of local, national, or global history can find chastening insights and strong towlines to his disciplin in Handlin's voluminous recapitulation of what historical inquiry can be and what it should not be. . . . This is a major, demanding collection of essays and mongraphs guided by Handlin's disillusionment with historians who settle for less than ineluctability." —Booklist "[A] most useful, carefully written and sometimes provocative book of essays and monographs. . . . Handlin's cautionary call to 'objectivity' will make waves." —Publishers Weekly "Why study history—and how. . . . Handlin discusses just such difficult and enduring questions in this worthy collection of essays. . . . Handlin tells us that there's more than one way to view a mountain, and even for those living halfway up it's a long way to the peak. So why bother with the climb? For Handlin the answer is the truth in history: his and our recognition that 'men and women walked the earth' and that 'though it takes a whole wide world of knowledge to know them, they are knowable.' A precious, hard-won recognition." —Kirkus "To understand Truth in History you have to take it personally. Its seventeen essays, informed by Oscar Handlin's robust and undisputed mastery of the craft and subject of history, articulate his unmistakable disappointment and outrage at the recent practices of American historians. . . . The best part of Handlin's writing compels us to respond honestly to his candid and generous jeremiad. . . . This sustaining vision . . . must strike a reader with its emotional force and its compelling account. . . . The scholar who defends and exemplifies this understanding of historical studies writes essays worth reading." —Robert Dawidoff, Reviews in American History "[Truth in History] does provide the most complete statement of Handlin's approach that we can hope to get. In these essays, written over many years but here reworked into a remarkably unified whole, Handlin examines the limits and possibilities of historical thought." —Jack N. Rakove, The New Republic "Oscar Handlin's Truth in History is a singular distillation of the wisdom, unnerving knowledge, and experience of a master historian who after forty years in the academic ttrenches still insists that mere facts, not existential conceits, are the fundament of history." —John P. Roche, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560009511
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1998
  • Pages: 437
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Oscar Handlin (1915–2011) was director of the Center for the History of Liberty in America at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous works that have become classics.

Oscar Handlin (1915–2011) was director of the Center for the History of Liberty in America at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous works that have become classics.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Transaction Edition
Preface: The Abuses of History
Personal Reflections on a Calling 1
1 A Discipline in Crisis 3
2 Living in a Valley 25
The Central Themes of American History 41
3 A History of American History 43
4 Theories of Historical Interpretation 85
5 Historical Criticism 111
6 An Instance of Criticism 145
Dealing with the Evidence 163
7 How to Read a Word 165
8 How to Count a Number 194
9 Seeing and Hearing 227
10 History in a World of Knowledge 252
Persistent Themes and Hard Facts 291
11 Political Theory and Popular Thought 293
12 Man and Magic 316
13 Good Guys and Bad 332
14 The Two-Party System 353
The Uses of History 369
15 The Diet of a Ravenous Public 371
16 Ethnicity and the New History 383
17 The Uses of History 403
Acknowledgments 417
Index 421
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