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History’s Babel

Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880 - 1940

History’s Babel

Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880 - 1940

From the late nineteenth century until World War II, competing spheres of professional identity and practice redrew the field of history, establishing fundamental differences between the roles of university historians, archivists, staff at historical societies, history teachers, and others.
In History’s Babel, Robert B. Townsend takes us from the beginning of this professional shift—when the work of history included not just original research, but also teaching and the gathering of historical materials—to a state of microprofessionalization that continues to define the field today. Drawing on extensive research among the records of the American Historical Association and a multitude of other sources, Townsend traces the slow fragmentation of the field from 1880 to the divisions of the 1940s manifest today in the diverse professions of academia, teaching, and public history. By revealing how the founders of the contemporary historical enterprise envisioned the future of the discipline, he offers insight into our own historical moment and the way the discipline has adapted and changed over time. Townsend’s work will be of interest not only to historians but to all who care about how the professions of history emerged, how they might go forward, and the public role they still can play.

272 pages | 15 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Education: Education--General Studies

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“In this impressively researched study, Robert Townsend conveys the intellectual energy and the distinctly American unified vision among particular historians of the time who sought a professional identity for the historical enterprise. Though the unified vision did not take a firm hold, their institutional framework of journals, scholarly structures, professional standards, and methodological explorations persists to this day. This is an important study of the evolution of the infrastructure of the intellectual life of the nation.”

Francis X. Blouin, Jr. | University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Part I. Building the Historical Enterprise, 1880 to 1910

Chapter 1. Establishing a Framework for “Scientific” History Scholarship
Chapter 2. Developing the Tools and Materials of History Research
Chapter 3. Defining a Profession of History Teaching

Part II. Cracks Appear in the Edifice of History, 1911 to 1925

Chapter 4. Seeking Refuge in Professionalized Scholarship
Chapter 5. Placing the Tools and Materials of Research in “Other Hands”
Chapter 6. History Teaching Finds Its Own Voice

Part III. Scattering the Historical Enterprise, 1926 to 1940

Chapter 7. The Crisis of the “Research Men”
Chapter 8. Handing Tools and Materials Over to Others
Chapter 9. Teaching Goes Its Own Way, 1925–1940



National Council on Public History: NCPH Book Award

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