Arthur Meier Schlesinger

views updated May 09 2018

Arthur Meier Schlesinger

The American historian Arthur Meier Schlesinger (1888-1965) was one of the pioneers in the study of the social aspects of American history.

Arthur M. Schlesinger was born in Xenia, Ohio, on Feb. 27, 1888, the son of a first-generation immigrant. Schlesinger graduated in 1910 from Ohio State University. As a graduate student at Columbia, he was influenced by Herbert Levi Osgood, James Harvey Robinson, and Charles A. Beard. His dissertation, finished in 1917, was The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution (1918), which Sir Denis Brogan called "perhaps the most remarkable Ph.D. dissertation in modern American historiography." Schlesinger had used Osgood's methods and Beard's insights.

While finishing his dissertation, Schlesinger taught at Ohio State, beginning in 1912. He became a full professor in 1917, the same year he received his doctorate. During his stay at Ohio State, he married Elizabeth Bancroft. In 1919 he moved to the State University of Iowa as chairman of the history department. In 1922 he inaugurated a course entitled "Social and Cultural History of the United States," the first of its kind in the country. His New Viewpoints in American History (1922) presents his ideas on the craft and content of history. He joined Harvard in 1924 as a visiting professor of history and became Francis Lee Higginson professor of history in 1939. He was a charter member of the Social Science Research Council, an organization he later chaired (1930-1933).

The first four volumes of A History of American Life, under the joint editorship of Schlesinger and Dixon Ryan Fox, appeared in 1927. Schlesinger's own contribution was volume 10, The Rise of the City, 1878-1898 (1933), an outstanding pioneer effort in social and urban history. The 13-volume series was completed in 1948 and was an original attempt to portray the everyday life of ordinary people, touching on health, public welfare, and recreation. Schlesinger also wrote college texts during this period. His interest in immigration led him to finish two books by Marcus Lee Hansen: The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 (1940), which won a Pulitzer Prize, and The Immigrant in American History (1940). His presidential address to the American Historical Association in 1942, reprinted in his Paths to the Present (1949), again called attention to the study of American character.

Schlesinger retired from Harvard in 1953. He died on Oct. 30, 1965. His son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., became famous as a historian and also as part of President John F. Kennedy's intellectual group.

Further Reading

The best account of Schlesinger's professional life is his autobiography, In Retrospect: The History of a Historian (1963). His ideas are set forth in his New Viewpoints in American History (1922) and Paths to the Present (1949; rev. ed. 1964), as well as in John Higham, Leonard Kreiger, and Felix Gilbert, History (1965).

Additional Sources

Depoe, Stephen P., Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and the ideological history of American liberalism, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994. □