Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Dunning School

The Dunning School: Historians, Race, and the Meaning of Reconstruction

John David Smith
J. Vincent Lowery
Foreword by Eric Foner
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 338
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgsj9
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Dunning School
    Book Description:

    From the late nineteenth century until World War I, a group of Columbia University students gathered under the mentorship of the renowned historian William Archibald Dunning (1857--1922). Known as the Dunning School, these students wrote the first generation of state studies on the Reconstruction -- volumes that generally sympathized with white southerners, interpreted radical Reconstruction as a mean-spirited usurpation of federal power, and cast the Republican Party as a coalition of carpetbaggers, freedmen, scalawags, and former Unionists.

    Edited by the award-winning historian John David Smith and J. Vincent Lowery,The Dunning Schoolfocuses on this controversial group of historians and its scholarly output. Despite their methodological limitations and racial bias, the Dunning historians' writings prefigured the sources and questions that later historians of the Reconstruction would utilize and address. Many of their pioneering dissertations remain important to ongoing debates on the broad meaning of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the evolution of American historical scholarship.

    This groundbreaking collection of original essays offers a fair and critical assessment of the Dunning School that focuses on the group's purpose, the strengths and weaknesses of its constituents, and its legacy. Squaring the past with the present, this important book also explores the evolution of historical interpretations over time and illuminates the ways in which contemporary political, racial, and social questions shape historical analyses.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4273-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Eric Foner

    It is a peculiarity of the historical profession that it displays remarkably little interest in its own history. For this reason alone, a volume on the Dunning School—the first generation of university-trained historians to study the Reconstruction era—is extremely welcome. These essays offer fascinating insights into not only their scholarly writings but also their intellectual formation, social backgrounds, personal experiences, research methods, and the overall trajectories of their careers. The book provides an introduction to an important group of historians, as well as a sad reminder of the price paid when racial prejudice shapes historical judgment.

    The term...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-48)
    John David Smith

    In 1916 the historian Arthur C. Cole of the University of Illinois noted the emergence of what he termed the new “southern school of historians.” The pupils, largely “historical students of southern birth and breeding” and “representatives of the new south,” had “migrated northward to the class room of a northern guide and philosopher to receive words of wisdom and inspiration.”¹ Their school was Columbia University in New York City, and their teacher was Professor William Archibald Dunning (1857–1922), one of the most important figures in developing and legitimizing southern history and the Reconstruction era as research fields. During...

  5. 1 John W. Burgess, Godfather of the Dunning School
    (pp. 49-76)
    Shepherd W. McKinley

    One cannot fully understand the Dunning School without a working knowledge of John W. Burgess’s life, career, and publications. Part of an earlier generation, he taught William A. Dunning and helped build the foundations on which the school stood. Burgess published “scientific” scholarship that was in line with the highest international standards, and his views on the Teutonic “race” not only supported but gave intellectual credibility to a wide variety of racist views in Reconstruction histories. Hardly obsessed with race, however, he was interested in topics as diverse as international political science, national reunification, Hegelian philosophy, Germany, and educational reform....

  6. 2 William Archibald Dunning: Flawed Colossus of American Letters
    (pp. 77-106)
    James S. Humphreys

    The influence of the American historian William Archibald Dunning hovers over the study of United States history and political science like a ghostly apparition, one that modern scholars have found impossible to avoid. Dunning arguably contributed more than any other scholar to those two fields, when both were in their nascent stages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His scholarly corpus of writing included forty-three articles on history and political science topics, two books on the Reconstruction era, and three works on Western political theory.¹ Dunning also played a major role in the development of the American Historical...

  7. 3 James Wilford Garner and the Dream of a Two-Party South
    (pp. 107-132)
    W. Bland Whitley

    James W. Garner has long been characterized as the most balanced and least strident of William A. Dunning’s students. Although in its general outlines Garner’s view of Reconstruction differed little from most of his Dunningite peers’, his tone, approach, and in some cases findings were strikingly discordant. In private Garner even went so far as to praise James L. Alcorn, Mississippi’s first elected Republican governor under Reconstruction, who had embraced the political conditions of Reconstruction in the hopes of taking charge of a biracial political coalition. In a letter to Alcorn’s widow, Garner admitted that Alcorn had “pursued the wise...

  8. 4 Ulrich B. Phillips: Dunningite or Phillipsian Sui Generis?
    (pp. 133-156)
    John David Smith

    The Georgia native Ulrich Bonnell Phillips (1877–1934), along with his Columbia University mentor, William A. Dunning, set the standard for early twentieth-century scholarship on plantation slavery and the Civil War and Reconstruction, respectively. Contextualizing the work of Phillips, Dunning, and others of their era, the historian Steven Hahn notes that such “early scholars saw the dynamics of national development in the transmission of Anglo-Saxon ideals and institutions, in the conflicts between different white interest groups and classes, and in the Anglo conquest of the frontier.” Southern historians of Phillips and Dunning’s time in particular maintained “that the regional struggle...

  9. 5 The Steel Frame of Walter Lynwood Fleming
    (pp. 157-178)
    Michael W. Fitzgerald

    It was a professional experience with which present-day authors might feel an uneasy sympathy. Walter Fleming, at age thirty-one, had just published his first and most significant work,Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama(1905). The liberal journal of opinion theNationfound the book worthy of an extended review, which would have seemed promising news save that the editor was Oswald Garrison Villard. The grandson of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and himself a future founder of the NAACP, Villard branded the work a piece of southern propaganda. Proslavery assumptions and regional defensiveness provided “the steel frame” of Fleming’s...

  10. 6 Ransack Roulhac and Racism: Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton and Dunning’s Questions of Institution Building and Jim Crow
    (pp. 179-202)
    John Herbert Roper Sr.

    Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton (1878–1961). Saying the name slowly produces a humor not inappropriate, almost like the old W. C. Fields routine in which the comedian with orotund vowels recited pretentious names of pretentious people. He liked to be called Roulhac, and the sycophantic intoned the maternal name with awe, the many critics with contempt. Too, photographs of Hamilton reveal a feminist’s nightmare of Patriarch, an African American’s nightmare of The Man, a Sixties Radical’s nightmare of Authority. In his essay in this book, J. Vincent Lowery offers a seriocomic image of Hamilton so enraged over an issue...

  11. 7 Paul Leland Haworth: The “Black Republican” in the Old Chief’s Court
    (pp. 203-228)
    J. Vincent Lowery

    Scholars have rarely mentioned Indiana-born Paul Leland Haworth in connection with the group of historians referred to as the Dunning School even though Haworth completed his dissertation under Columbia University professor William Archibald Dunning’s direction in 1906. Scholars’ omission of Haworth from their assessments of Dunning and his students has possibly resulted from Haworth’s lack of professional accomplishments compared to his more well-known southern classmates, but also because Haworth clashed with them on interpretations of Reconstruction and what was then termed the Negro Problem. These disagreements were not lost on W. E. B. Du Bois, who organized the bibliography of...

  12. 8 Charles W. Ramsdell: Reconstruction and the Affirmation of a Closed Society
    (pp. 229-254)
    Fred Arthur Bailey

    University of Texas Professor Charles W. Ramsdell stood to deliver his presidential address before the third annual convention of the Southern Historical Association on November 20, 1936. The scholars assembled before him in Nashville represented the history academy’s dedication to strict professionalism in general and the specific application of its principles to southern chronicles in particular. Earlier generations of would-be historians fell short of a commitment to the absolute veracity of the past, Ramsdell explained to his audience. Their predecessors—some from the North, others from the South—looked on the southern region blinded by the trauma of the lamentable...

  13. 9 The Not-So-Strange Career of William Watson Davis’s The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida
    (pp. 255-280)
    Paul Ortiz

    William Watson Davis’s doctoral dissertation, published asThe Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida,appeared in 1913 on the eve of the semi-centennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. Historians immediately showered it with acclaim. William E. Dodd characterized the study as “a doctoral dissertation of rather extraordinary character.” Dodd continued: “It needs hardly to be said that the study is properly documented at every point and that the contentions of the writer are so cogently presented that the reader is not likely to dissent.” Though the historian John H. Russell offered a more critical assessment, he concluded that the book’s...

  14. 10 C. Mildred Thompson: A Liberal among the Dunningites
    (pp. 281-308)
    William Harris Bragg

    On February 16, 1975, the last surviving student of Professor William A. Dunning’s fabled Reconstruction seminar died, only six years short of her hundredth birthday. C. Mildred Thompson left the world where she had entered it: Atlanta, Georgia, whose history was entwined with the subject of her only book,Reconstruction in Georgia: Economic, Social, Political, 1865–1872. She had been born in 1881, the year that the last Reconstruction president had left office, and only a few years after America’s centennial. Now death had come the year before two other events Thompson would have welcomed: the nation’s bicentennial celebration and...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 309-310)
  16. List of Contributors
    (pp. 311-314)
  17. Index
    (pp. 315-326)