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Arthur Meier Schlesinger

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Arthur Meier Schlesinger

This article is about the elder Arthur M. Schlesinger (1888-1965). For his son (1917-2007), see Arthur Schlesinger, Jr..

Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Sr. (February 27, 1888 – October 30, 1965) was an American historian of the United States. He pioneered social history and urban history. He was a Progressive Era intellectual who stressed material causes (like economic profit) and downplayed ideology and values as motivations for historical actors. He was highly influential as a director of PhD dissertations at Harvard for three decades, especially in the fields of social, women's and immigration history. His son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007), was also a noted historian.

Life and career

Schlesinger's father, Bernhard Schlesinger, was a Prussian Jew, and his mother, Kate (née Feurle), was an Austrian Catholic. The two joined the Protestant church together and emigrated to Xenia, Ohio, in 1872.[1][2] Arthur M. Schlesinger was born in Xenia, Ohio, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 1910. While a student at Ohio State, he was initiated into the Ohio Zeta chapter of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity.[3] He took his Ph.D. in history at Columbia University. He taught at Ohio State and the University of Iowa before joining the faculty of Harvard University as a professor of history in 1924. Schlesinger taught at Harvard until 1954. Harvard's Schlesinger Library in women's history is named after him and his wife Elizabeth, a noted feminist. He became an editor of the New England Quarterly in 1928.

Arthur enjoyed strong family ties and commitment. His two sisters Olga and Marion Etna became schoolteachers and made it possible for their three younger brothers (George, Arthur and Hugo) to attend college graduating in engineering history and law. One of his sons was born Arthur Bancroft Schlesinger and added "Meier" as his middle name later in life.


He pioneered social history and urban history. He was a Progressive Era intellectual who stressed material causes (like economic profit) and downplayed ideology and values as motivations for historical actors. He was highly influential as a director of PhD dissertations at Harvard for three decades, especially in the fields of social, women's and immigration history.[4] He commented in 1922, "From reading history in textbooks one would think half of our population made only a negligible contribution to history."[5] He promoted social history by co-editing the 13-volume History of American Life series with Dixon Ryan Fox. These thick volumes, written by leading young scholars, avoided politics and constitutional issues, and focus on such topics as housing, fashion, sports, education, and cultural life.[6]

In "Tides of National Politics," a provocative essay in the Yale Review in 1939, he presented his cyclical view of history which identified irregular oscillations between liberal and conservative national moods. This model attracted few historians, apart from his son. Schlesinger introduced the idea of polling historians to rank presidential greatness, which attracted much attention. Schlesinger was co-editor and contributor of the "History of American Life" series (1928–43), which stressed social, demographic and economic trends, and downplayed politics and individuals. Numerous Schlesinger doctoral students, such as Merle Curti, studied the social analysis of ideas and attitudes.

In an essay on "The Significance of Jacksonian Democracy" (in New Viewpoints in American History (1922)) Schlesinger drew attention to the fact that "while democracy was working out its destiny in the forests of the Mississippi Valley, the men left behind in the eastern cities were engaging in a struggle to establish conditions of equality and social well-being adapted to their special circumstances".

As a historian of the rise of the city in American life, he argued that for a full understanding of the Jacksonian democratic movement: "It is necessary to consider the changed circumstances of life of the common man in the new industrial centers of the East since the opening years of the nineteenth century." This was a challenge to the frontier thesis of his Harvard colleague Frederick Jackson Turner. In Schlesinger's essay, the common man of the Mississippi Valley and the common man of eastern industrialism stood uneasily side by side. Schlesinger characterized prejudice against Catholics as "the deepest bias in the history of the American people".[7]


  • 1918 The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution, 1763–1776 online
  • 1922 New Viewpoints in American History, historiographical essays online edition
  • 1925 Political and Social Growth of the American People, 1865–1940, college textbook in numerous editions reviews
  • 1933 The Rise of the City, 1878–1898 reviews
  • 1940. "The City in American History: Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jun., 1940), pp. 43-66 in JSTOR, highly influential article
  • 1941 "Patriotism Names the Baby," New England Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Dec., 1941), pp. 611-618 in JSTOR
  • 1944 "Biography of a Nation of Joiners," American Historical Review , Vol. 50, No. 1 (Oct., 1944), pp. 1-25 in JSTOR
  • 1944 Biography of a Nation of Joiners
  • 1946 Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books
  • 1949 Paths to the Present reviews
  • 1958 Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764–1776
  • 1950 The American as reformer.
  • 1954 "A Note on Songs as Patriot Propaganda 1765-1776," William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 11, No. 1 (Jan., 1954), pp. 78-88 in JSTOR
  • 1955 "Political Mobs and the American Revolution, 1765-1776," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society' Vol. 99, No. 4 (Aug. 30, 1955), pp. 244-250 in JSTOR
  • 1963 In Retrospect: The History of a Historian, autobiography
  • 1968 Birth of the Nation: A Portrait of the American People on the Eve of Independence

See also

Biography portal



  • Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr. A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917 - 1950 (2000) son's memoirs has much on the father.

External links

  • Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. Archives online articles
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