The Historian and History

Page Smith

In a highly critical 1964 review, C. Vann Woodward wrote: “Smith… rejects… the idea that ‘history must analyze the behavior of social groups’ rather than ‘mediate the past to the present generation.’ …Mr. Smith finds it ‘hard to imagine a better system’ to kill American history as a humane study than the one that prevails in our colleges at present.'”

In Smith’s 1995 New York Times obituary, William Honan called The Historian and History “[Smith’s] most disputed work… a witty indictment of American historians. In the book he observed wryly that there were then 15 ‘trained and presumably productive’ people with doctorates in the field for every year of the nation’s history… far more than is necessary… especially when most were absurdly overspecialized, slavishly addicted to textbooks in their areas and foolishly pretended to objectivity… Championing a story-telling approach to historical writing, he argued that ‘great history has always been narrative history, history with a story to tell that illuminates the truth of the human situation, that lifts spirits and prospects to new potentialities.'”