Peter Novick: That Noble Dream The 'Objectivity uestion' and the American Historical Profession Ideas in Context



Ommon as racial and gender studies grew Historians began expanding their fields into and subfields while also embracing methodologies of other social sciences Throughout these fields Novick notes the split between professional and amateur historians observing that in the 1970s and 1980s this divide was blurred as the shrinking job market forced many trained historians into public history by working for government institutions or businesses Novick does not over simplify his narrative but continually reminds us that these periods all contained a mixture of these views and divisions between each main historiographical period were uite blurry By examining the academic output and personal papers of prominent historians Novick creates a complete picture of the diverse American historical community Even so schools of thought are notoriously hard to identify and define so since most historians do not directly state their epistemological views nor do they often devote serious consideration to such mattersThat as Novick states was his ultimate reason for writing this book He offers no answers to the deep epistemological uestions he raises He does not assert that any of the views he describes are right or wrong or even appropriate or inappropriate His goal was simply to spur thought on these matters to get historians to consider the deeper uestions and assumptions that underpin their work In that effort he succeeds brilliantly Read this for grad class on theory much like most of the other reviewers on here I wholeheartedly agree with most of the previous reviewers that no one in their right mind read not in a history grad program should have any inclination or desire to pick this up Now I personally detest theory my soul dies a little every time I go to my class dedicated to it but I enjoyed this book This may be the first theory centric book that I did not daydream about torching While I struggle to see how much of the theory we study influences or fits into my own work Novick s in depth discu A fascinating exposition of the rise and fall of objectivism as the governing norm of historical practice divided into four movements the establishment of the ideal with historical professionalization 1880 1915 the challenge from early relativism in the Progressive era 1915 1940 th This one took me a while to finish reading considering how many times I went back through it but it is very interesting if ou wonder what some of the happenings behind the historical profession are Outside of it being analytical and factual there is no real narrative in this book so it isn t a good pick for those looking for creative narration on historical events or historical fiction. R ought to be doing when they wrote history how their principles influenced their practice and practical exigencies influenced their principles An astute and provocative account of how the historical profession in American has dealt with its founding myth and central norm the ideal of objectivity Dorothy Ross.

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Provoke a deep level of introspection among American historians about what they are doing and how they are doing it To that end he traces the evolution of American historiographic thought beginning in the late nineteenth century as history became a professional field through the time of the book s publication in the mid 1980s Novick asserts that objectivity notoriously difficult to define is the founding myth of professional history and various historians have dealt with the issue of objectivity in distinct ways which Novick splits into four roughly chronological periods His point in all of this is not to advocate a specific school of thought or show that historians have fallen away or moved toward some ideal but rather to simply spur conscious thought about dealing with objectivity and the assumptions that lay beneath the methodologies of professional historiansThe first period of Novick s analysis begins in the late nineteenth century when the creation of the American Historical Association marked the professionalization of historians This era was defined by what Novick deems a misinterpretation of Leopold von Ranke Historians believed that a final objective fact based truth existed and eventually historians would study each period of history and arrive at the definitive truth of the events of that period Thus a complete and total conceptualization of history was like building a house each historian providing one brick of knowledge at a time After World War I some began to doubt this view and these relativists offered reinterpretations of historical events The most prominent was the Marxist school which emphasized economic structures and class conflict Part of this relativism came from a misunderstanding of scientific developments uantum theory and relativity seemed to demonstrate that reality was not as solid as once believed and this doubt about the true structure of nature influenced these historians who began to uestion the total objectivity of truth that the historical community previously assumed The post World War II period experienced somewhat of a resurgence of a belief in absolute truth although this was often viewed through the lens of a dichotomy between liberty and totalitarianism Historians in this period walked a tightrope between detached objectivity and advocation of ideology The pendulum swung sharply the opposite direction as the turbulent 1960s ushered in a diverse almost chaotic set of competing conceptions Some radical groups outright rejected any pretense of objectivity and strove for political advocacy or simply denied that any such thing as objective truth was possible Increased specification and diversification became CenturyDrawing on the unpublished correspondence as well as the published writings of hundreds of American historians from J Franklin Jameson and Charles Beard to Arthur Schlesinger Jr and Eugene Genovese That Nobel Dream is a richly textured account of what American historians have thought they were doing

I actually enjoyed this book Which further proves I m a dork I really hope the earning of a masters in history is not dependent on understanding andor enjoying this bookYikes Run out and find me a four A Feast of Freud year old child I can t make head or tail of this Perhaps once I ve gone further towards becoming a master this will make sense I had to give up seven months laterWell I am further towards becoming a master but I really think that the reason I hated this so much last summer was that I was bogged down in the beginning of the book I ve read than half of it now but starting in the 20th Century and it becomes much interesting I don t think this is a bookou sit down and read this is really a reference a reader can pick this book up to examine particular eras in American historiography If The Mallen Girl you are wondering hey what were the Progressive historians all about again or what was the deal with the Consensus historians of the 50s this is the place to turn Novick has a nice dry sense of humor and he really combed the archives to find personal correspondence to liven up his story and ground everything in real people and their relationships I do not think any non historian would ever have any desire to read this and that s fine It is intended to help historians understand other historians A bit long winded but Peter Novick gives a good description of the history of the history profession in the United States I read this book for the first time some thirtyears ago as a graduate history student I decided to return to it in preparation for an historiography class with a couple of talented students as well as the personal curiosity of reassessing it as a senior history professor It s just as thought provoking and engaging even many of the footnotes make worthwhile reading as I recall it being decades ago My favorite part is still the same as it was the first time that I read it too an account of a PhD oral exam at Columbia that took part in the midst of the 1968 strike there pp428 9 First book I read for grad school Very informative overview of American historiography sheds a great deal of light while posing some intriguing uestions about history and the historian Novick gives a fantastic analysis of the changing views on the uestions of objectivity and subjectivity in American historiography How Novick a European historian could write so comprehensively and with such depth and for almost 650 pages is amazingHe is admittedly a historicist which he says means simply that thinking about anything in the past is primarily shaped by my understanding of its role within a particular Peter Novick s only stated goal in That Noble Dream is to simply raise uestions and. The aspiration to relate the past as it really happened has been the central goal of American professional historians since the late 19th century In this remarkable history of the profession Peter Novick shows how the idea and ideal of objectivity were elaborated challenged modified and defended over the last.

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