The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XV. Later Historians
§ 7. Herbert B. Adams
At Columbia University the zeal and wisdom of Professor John W. Burgess brought into existence a department of political science in which history had an important place, with results that have been far reaching. He gathered around him an able group of assistants and set standards which have had much influence in a university which, as the event showed, was about to take a large place in our educational life. At Johns Hopkins the same kind of work was done by Herbert B. Adams (1850–1901), whose name will ever have place in the story of historical development in this country. He was born at Shutesbury, Massachusetts, graduated at Amherst in 1872, was awarded the doctorate at Heidelberg in 1876, and was appointed a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University in the same year. The illustrious position of that university offered a stage for the development of his talents. Among the mature and capable students who gathered around him he became an enthusiastic leader. No man knew better how to stimulate a young man to attempt authorship. In establishing The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science he opened a new door of publication to American Students. He took personal interest in his students after they left the university and sought to save them from the dry rot that menaces the young doctor when he first realizes academic success. It was in this work for historical study and in the organization of the American Historical Association that Adams’s best service was done. He wrote many monographs on subjects of occasional importance. His one large book, The Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (2 vols., 1893), was received with disfavour by a public whom Adams and men like him had already taught to condemn Sparks’s uncritical methods. Other directors of historical research have been keener critics of their students and have given them a larger portion of the divine doubts that makes the historian proof against credulity; but no other has sent them forth with a stronger desire to become historians.
One of the effects of the development of graduate instruction is that teachers of history write most of the history now being written in the United States. The historian who is merely a historian is rarely encountered. Whether the result be good or bad is not a part of this discussion; but the process promotes the separation of the writer from his readers, which may or may not be fortunate. The professor-historian, having his subsistence in his college salary, may defy the bad taste of his public and write history in accordance with the best canons of the schools: he may come to despise the just demand that history be so written that it may maintain its place in the literature that appeals to serious and intelligent people who are not specialists.