Carl Becker; Everyman His Own Historian1, The American Historical Review, Volume 37, Issue 2, 1 January , Pages – Carl Becker; Everyman His Own Historian1, The American Historical Review, Volume 37, Issue 2, 1 January , Pages Everyman His Own Historian1. Carl. Everyman His Own Historian: Carl Becker: the American Historical Association, “Everyman His Own Historian” (published in and expanded to book.

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I have heard that on account of dampness it is very cold in winter and very hot in summer.

His “nervous temperaments” were indeed quickly tested. The results transformed Becker’s views and, through his writings, the thinking of many leading Americans — but not historain of Ithaca’s weather.

As Americans prepared in to fight in World War I, Becker had been part of the influential Progressive movement which aimed at nothing less than reforming an America ruled by monopolistic robber barons and corrupt city machines. On foreign policy issues, however, Progressives were more divided and less jistorian.

Catalog Record: Everyman his own historian; essays on history | Hathi Trust Digital Library

Becker’s quick acceptance of President Woodrow Wilson’s views of the necessary U. The results, a deeply disillusioned Becker told a friend inwere catastrophic. The war that Wilson claimed was to make “the bbecker safe for democracy” instead produced an expanding communist Russia, a broken Western Europe, the massive “Red Scare” search for American communists and socialists, bloody racial riots in several U.


Hiistorian, Becker told his friend, “has no humor, no objectivity, no abiding sense of or contact with reality. As noted by Cornell’s Michael Kammen, the distinguished editor of Becker’s letters, the professor’s vices were limited to “billiard playing, fast driving, and excessive smoking of Camel cigarettes.

He discovered an answer in a form of historical relativism brilliantly captured in the title of his presidential address to the American Histkrian Association: The first is absolute and unchanged Becker’s address took not only historians but American intellectual and political elites by storm.

Carl Becker’s histories and the American present

Historical relativism was the new way of understanding the past — and thus necessarily the present since, as William Faulkner later noted, the past is never really past. Within 14 months of Becker’s presidential address, however, an absolute appeared: Adolf Hitler, absolute in his evil.

Hemmed evegyman by his relativism, alienated by his bitter experience with Wilson, Becker could not come to terms with the significance of either Hitler or the isolationist U. By lateJapanese militarists consolidated their invasion of Oown China, Mussolini seized Ethiopia, while Hitler stripped Jews of their protection of German citizenship and announced massive German rearmament.

Amidst these catastrophes, Becker wrote the Washington Herald a public letter in which he stated that a “resort to force in place of persuasion is so far a confession hixtorian failure. I have no faith in the possibility of abolishing oppression by suppressing oppressors.


At a turning point in history, Becker did not turn. Believing that two ways existed to understand and teach history, the “scientific” and relativistic, Becker advocated the relativism spelled out in his address. There was, however, a third alternative which others, such as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, seized.

Everyman His Own Historian: Essays on History and Politics

It assumed that absolute evil could exist and could only be destroyed by counterforce. Hiss assumption required a knowledge of foreign policy and other nations’ politics.

Beecker not all supposed aggressors were the equivalent of Hitler, particularly given their inability or unwillingness to attack the United States and its allies. Becker and, especially sinceAmerican intellectuals, media and government officials could at crucial moments never move beyond their own worldviews historin make that distinction.

They were, as Becker himself explained, prisoners of their own limited experiences and historical knowledge. Carl Becker, a prominent cultural and intellectual historian, taught in Cornell’s Department of History from through and served as the university historian from until his death in Carl Becker in