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Historians on the Homefront

Historians on the Homefront: American Propagandists for the Great War

George T. Blakey
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Historians on the Homefront
    Book Description:

    When Woodrow Wilson called on the American people to mobilize for war in April 1917, it was hardly surprising that historians should respond to their one-time colleague. Mobilization produced three organizations staffed by many of America's leading historians. All three organizations, the author shows, viewed as their task the mobilizing of America's intellectual resources in support of Wilson's war policies.

    The postwar decade saw an inevitable cooling of wartime passions and a reevaluation of the causes of the war. George T. Blakey examines the postwar reaction to the activities of the CPI, NBHS, and NSL, which included congressional investigations and acerbic attacks in popular and scholarly periodicals. A number of the historians came to regret their wartime propaganda work; a few of these joined the ranks of the revisionists and turned on their colleagues. Others merely strengthened their Germanophobia. The majority, Mr. Blakely finds, resumed their academic careers, apparently untouched by the part they had played in mobilizing the American war effort. The question of scholarly integrity versus propaganda has never been fully resolved, the author concludes, but later generations of historians can still learn much from the example of America's World War I historians-turned-propagandists.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6214-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. I. The Dilemma of War
    (pp. 1-15)

    As America entered war in April 1917, two historians issued appeals for support and service during the national crisis: President Woodrow Wilson and his former professor, J. Franklin Jameson. Wilson asked for mobilization of America’s physical resources to wage a moral crusade against the forces of teutonic militarism in Europe. Jameson sought to muster the intellectual resources of historians in defense of America’s position. The appeals of these two men presented in microcosm the dilemma facing America’s young historical profession, that of how far a historian could go in patriotic support of his nation’s war aims and still remain faithful...

  4. II. Mobilizing the Historians
    (pp. 16-33)

    In his lofty Morningside Heights office, Professor James T. Shotwell assumed a somewhat Olympian position of anticipating events and serving as a catalyst for their implementation. He and Charles A. Beard had urged America’s entry into the war months before Wilson’s address, and now in early April Shotwell became a leader in organizing historians for war activity. What now began as a series of talks and letters grew into the National Board for Historical Service, one of three major committees in which historians participated during the war. Following a meeting with his Columbia colleagues at the time of the war...

  5. III. Professors & Pamphlets
    (pp. 34-56)

    WhenThe War Message and the Facts behind Itcame off the Government Printing Office presses on June 10, 1917, historians in the cpi and nbhs became official pamphleteers. Unsure whether their efforts were properly aimed, they had ordered only 20,000 copies of this initial pamphlet and hoped their work would find an audience. They need not have worried. Director Ford later recalled that “as soon as it was released and the newspapers noticed it, the first day after that I got a peach basket full of mail … and the next day two bushels, and then the flood just...

  6. IV. Using & Abusing Oratory
    (pp. 57-81)

    With a flourish of adjectives in his pamphlet entitledSpeakers Training Camp, Professor A. B. Hart predicted a wartime speaker’s crusade “as deep as the danger, as wide as the country, as high as the patriotic spirit of the people.” As an oracle he proved accurate. Possibilities for oratory were great in an age when radio broadcasts were dimly feasible and “talkies” had not yet come to the cinema palaces. Mechanical amplification and recordings had not desiccated the art of public speaking and politicians as well as other public figures needed to make a good speech, delivered with grace and...

  7. V. Historians as Censors
    (pp. 82-105)

    The editors of theAtlantic Monthlyshared the fear felt by most authors and publishers in 1917 that wartime censorship would abridge the freedoms of expression guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. They consequently commissioned James Harvey Robinson to write an article delineating some of the problems involved in the suppression of ideas and information; this appeared in December 1917 and must have given the editors even more cause for fear. Robinson seemed resigned to the necessity if not the desirability of censorship. He explained that the exigencies of war could not always respect constitutional subleties and that America would...

  8. VI. In & Out of the Classroom
    (pp. 106-125)

    When Guy Stanton Ford addressed the National Education Association convention in 1919 his appearance belied the tone of his remarks. The high stiff collar accentuated the darkness of his tight-fitting suit and the graying hair and prim glasses created an aura of wisdom and academic respectability. But his speech more closely resembled that of an athletic coach congratulating a victorious team than that of a university dean and history professor. He told the assembly of educators that the most amazing thing about America’s participation in the war was that “the final victory was won … by the silent triumphs of...

  9. VII. Criticisms & Conclusions
    (pp. 126-152)

    When the armistice came in early November 1918, Americans began demobilizing their war mechanism as enthusiastically as they had thrown it together a year and a half before. Military, industrial, and humanitarian agencies evacuated Washington and emergency programs disappeared like the last scrawny turnips uprooted from victory gardens only a few weeks earlier. The cheers that greeted returning soldiers served hopefully as final applause for a drama reluctantly staged and now thankfully over. Although the guns were now silent and the physical machinery of war dismantled, Americans found that much of the war effort, particularly the intellectual mobilization, would not...

  10. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 153-160)
  11. Index
    (pp. 161-168)