The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XV. Later Historians
§ 6. The Transformation of Historical Instruction in the Universities
The part taken by colleges and universities in promoting historical literature is equally important with the services of the historical societies and the projectors of great collections of documents. The process by which instruction shifted from the old haphazard method into the modern mode of instruction which regards history as an exhibition of the life process of organized society, falls almost entirely within our present period of discussion. The transition was made gradually. It means that the older subjects, with the strictly text-book methods, have for the most part been relegated to the preparatory schools and the lower college classes, while lectures by specialists have become the means of instructing and inspiring the upper classmen among the undergraduates, and special research in seminaries has been employed to make historical scholars out of graduate students.
The origin of the movement was in Germany, from whose universities many enthusiastic American students returned to infuse new life into institutions in their native land or to give direction to the instruction in newly established seats of learning. In the former the change came gradually, as in Harvard, which established the first distinct chair of history when Jared Sparks was made McLean Professor in 1839. It is not believed that the “occasional examinations and lectures” he was required to to give greatly advanced historical instruction in the college. Distinct progress, however, was made under his successors, and the new life that came to the institution in the time of President Eliot completed the transformation in history as in other branches of instruction. Similar courses of development occurred in other universities.
Before this process was completed at Harvard or at any other Eastern university it was well established under the influence of Andrew D. White (1832–1918) at the University of Michigan and Cornell University. Returning from Europe he became professor of history in the former institution in 1857 and captivated the students by his brilliant lectures. In his classes was Charles Kendall Adams (1835–1902), who so impressed the master that he was made professor of history in Michigan when White became president of Cornell in 1867. Adams became president of the University of Wisconsin in 1891. Thus it happened that the influence of Andrew D. White in promoting modern historical instruction was brought to bear on three of the leading universities of the country, and that three strong departments of history sprang into existence.