David Harlan argued that in the disillusioned 1960s, history changed methodology to follow the social sciences. History tried to nurture objectivity and professionalism but ultimately failed. Harlan split his book into two parts: “The Legacy of the Sixties” and “The Renewal of American Historical Writing.” Part One described the impact of literary theory since the 1970s, the rise of women’s history, leftist ideological analysis, and obsessive professionalism. Part Two focused on changes brought by John Diggins, Hayden White, Richard Rorty, Elaine Showalter, and Henry Gates, Jr. Harlan ended his arguments by saying American historical writing has finally returned to its original state: a form of moral reflection.
Harlan’s book clearly and concisely portrayed his opinions. He did an excellent job of outlining his content so the reader knew the main points he was trying to make. The book could create controversy for professional historians who are Harlan’s target audience. His over-zealous concern with emotional involvement in history caused him to dismiss the idea of reading in context, a valuable practice. Harlan had hundreds of endnotes for each chapter with dozens of primary sources. Overall, the book was admirable, and I recommend it for academic libraries.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Harlan, David. The Degradation of American History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.