Conversations With Historians

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“History,” writes Professor John A. Garraty in the introduction to his new book, “is made up of facts, but also of opinions … Opinions are easily formed, but are as evanescent as ice in August. … those that retain their plausibility longest are those developed in minds steeped in knowledge of the past.” The book, entitled Interpreting American History: Conversations with Historians , represents one man’s search not for the facts but for the meaning of American history, from the nation’s beginnings down to the present day. It will be published soon by Macmillan.

As his introduction and his title imply, Dr. Garraty— professor of history at Columbia University, author of many books, and a member of this magazine’s advisory board—conducted his search by interviewing twentynine of his most eminent academic colleagues, each, in his opinion, “the best man” in a particular historical period. Dr. Garraty was accompanied on his travels by his wife, Gail, who sketched the historians as they were being interviewed. Her drawings will appear in the book, as they do in this excerpt from it. Another segment will be published in a later issue of AMERICAN HERITAGE .

It was difficult to choose only a few men from so distinguished a company; even at that, we have space for only a portion of each historian’s remarks, so that we come upon each of them here in the midst of the conversation, as it were, and must leave before it is over. Nevertheless we hope that these excerpts convey to the reader some of the excitement that gripped us as we read the entire manuscript: the sense of participating in private chats with a group of first-rate teachers and writers talking informally on the meaning of the nation’s past and, occasionally, on its hidden future. — The Editors

HENRY STEELE COMMAGER ROBERT H. FERRELL ARTHUR M. SCHLESINGER, JR.