Page:American History Told by Contemporaries, v2.djvu/31

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
No.2]
3
Educative Value


2. Educative Value of Sources

LIKE other literature, the office of history is to record, to instruct, and to please. History has natural claims on the interest of a student or reader, for it deals with stirring events, with human character, and with the welfare of the race ; hence, if well narrated, there is in this subject something to arouse the minds of young and old, and to develop them when aroused. The training element of history as a school subject has been discussed in many places : a list of references to such discussions appears in Channing and Hart's Guide to the Study of American History, §15. The value of sources, as a part of that study, has long been in the minds of the scholars and antiquarians who have painfully preserved and reprinted the old narratives, and it begins to be appreciated by the reading and teaching public. The most authoritative suggestions on the study of history in schools lay stress on the use of such material.

Sources are indeed the basis of history ; but not mere raw material, like the herbaria of the botanist or the chemicals of a laboratory, — stuffs to be destroyed in discovering their nature. As utterances of men living when they were made, sources have in them the breath of human life : history is the biology of human conduct. No historical question can be settled without an appeal to the sources, or without taking into account the character of the actors in history.

Nobody remembers all the history he reads ; the bold and striking events seize hold of the mind, and around them we associate the less notable incidents. A source, however, fixes such a bold and striking event in its most durable form. Volumes about the Indians will not tell us so much that we shall remember as Adair's or Carver's personal experiences (Nos. 113, 116).

Hence the instructing power of history depends in considerable part on the sources. They do not tell all their own story ; they need to be arranged and set in order by the historian, who on the solid piers of their assurances spans his continuous bridge of narrative. But there are two sides to history : the outward events in their succession, with which secondary historians alone can deal ; and the inner spirit, which is revealed only by the sources. If we could not know both things, it would be better to know how Zenger was tried for criticising government (No. 72), than what had been the history of freedom of the press in the