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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 16, No. 3
September, 1938
BOOK REVIEWS

Page 378

A Political History of the Cherokee Nation. By Morris L. Wardell. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938. vi+383 pp. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $3.50).

In the thirties of the past century the Cherokee Indians emigrated from the ancestral lands east of the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory, where they reestablished their homes and national institutions.

For three quarters of a century this noble people struggled against bewildering and weakening complexities—difficulties of a domestic nature and problems arising from Federal relations. No sooner had the weary Indian Acadians set foot in their new lands than there broke out among them an intense and bitter factionalism that was to drive many families out of the Nation and leave many more homes broken by murder. A disturbed financial condition, in part a consequence of the enforced but inevitable removal, likewise intensified the internal disharmony and demanded the attention of the Nation's most capable leaders. By the late 1840s, however, a measure of peace and stability had been restored; and it looked as if the Cherokees might for a while devote themselves to the task of strengthening their national autonomy. But soon the ominous rumblings of the Civil War were heard; and the Indians, by their position on the frontier, were forced into that struggle between the states which was no quarrel of their own. Those years of destruction, which wrought a woeful damage to the Cherokee domain and to the Indian morale, were followed by a political, social, cultural, and economic reconstruction. These post-war perplexities were intensified by the intrusion of an alien population and by the constantly increasing Federal intervention. Finally the defense of the Nation was dissipated and the loss of tribal autonomy was accomplished. So, in 1907, the Cherokee Nation passed out of existence as a separate political entity and the history of that proud people became fused with the greater history of the Commonwealth of Oklahoma.

Page 379

This study of the Cherokee Nation in the Indian Territory becomes the second of the general histories of the Five Civilized Tribes. As the title indicates, the author has emphasized the political phases of the tribal story. And that is as it should be: for the Cherokees, unlike some of their other Indian neighbors, wrote an eventful record of governmental experimentation and federal diplomacy. The parties and factions among them, each fighting for recognition, let pass no opportunity to press their suit at home and abroad. And though this party rivalry had somewhat abated by the close of the Civil War, there were other factors demanding due deliberation of the council, causing close and contested elections, and detailing delegations to Washington City.

The details of this story, of which the long and sanguine Ross-Treaty Party feud was but one, have not been easy to delineate; but Doctor Wardell has recorded the confused and conflicting points without bias and with care. He has presented the action in its relation to the eventful national setting; and the result is a study that is much more than local history. For this study the author has done a prodigious amount of research; and the hope has been expressed that Doctor Wardell may make use of some of the material he was unable to include in this study toward the preparation of a social and institutional study of the Cherokee people. Such a sequel would make a fitting companion volume to this splendid contribution.

This volume, being number seventeen in the notable series The Civilization of the American Indian is in keeping with the fine products we have come to expect from the University of Oklahoma press. It is excellently printed; aptly and beautifully illustrated. There are several appendices containing pertinent documentary material. The bibliography is comprehensive and the index is adequate and flawless.

—Gaston L. Litton.

The National Archives.

Page 380

A History of Historical Writing. By Harry Elmer Barnes. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937. 434 pp. $3.50.)

To encompass the long story of historical writing within a modest volume of 434 pages is indeed a notable achievement and one must respect the enormous labor of both reading and composition that were involved. The author has conceived and carried to completion an ambitious project. In his preface he invites competition but it is unlikely that any one will take him up in the near future.

While the book is ostensibly a text on historiography, much of the latter part is taken up with a development of the author's own point of view. Mr. Barnes is an exponent of the "new history" and he approaches his task from a very definite point of view which he seems to avow in the preface as his own,—

By a continuously increasing number of authorities it (history) is coming to be considered as, in the main, a genetic social science, which is concerned with reconstructing as far as may be possible, the past thoughts and activities of humanity.

He dismisses with scant consideration the view that history is a branch of literature and throughout the book, literary merit is regarded as simply a matter of a pleasing style and not of supreme merit. Starting from this assumption he gives a survey of historical composition from the "artifacts" of early man down to the "new history" which he seems to regard as ultimate. It is defined in the words of James Harvey Robinson as "all that we know about everything that man has ever done or thought or hoped or felt." But the author at times is afflicted with doubts whether there exists any final truth to be discovered by the historian, whether our so-called historical facts are not really, according to Carl Becker, merely "symbols." Mr. Barnes does not seem to see that with the elimination of "objectivity" the idea of there being a "science of history" also vanishes. Yet he insists on a "science," and casts his net far and wide in search of facts

Page 381

for the consideration of his "scientist." One is permitted to doubt whether the assembly of such material, however impressive in quantity and variety can produce history unless fused in the crucible of a reflective mind. And that makes history-writing what the present reviewer takes it to be—merely a form of literature in which subjective is the predominating factor. That is a question of philosophy and one's Weltanschauung.

The book has a cosmic sweep from the first crude scratchings of the caveman down to the newest Marxian history, but there is nothing cosmic in Mr. Barnes' views when he comes down to contemporary times. Here he asserts his position dogmatically and identifies truth with his own beliefs, even venturing boldly into the future. Subjectivity thus driven out one door comes in at the other.

The war guilt controversy in which Mr. Barnes first won his spurs, is a case in point, where he lays about him with great vigor demolishing the so-called myth of German guilt. Much of the fervor and passion seem already strangely misplaced in view of the new aggressions Germany is now openly contemplating, and the wholesale distortion of truth being practised by the Nazis. One feels that this is typical of Mr. Barnes' writing; the issue into which he throws himself appears to him so vital at the time, but looked at from a longer perspective, seems a little ridiculous. This reviewer has no objection to historians plunging into current affairs and becoming controversialists, but by so doing, they cease to be historians. If they identify their partisan views with truth, the logic of events will leave them stranded in helpless impotence unless they link up their own dogmas with adequate force. This is reducing the world to intellectual chaos in which there is not truth, but force.

As a more fruitful means of interpreting the world, the "new history" has arrived. But it seems to this reviewer that all that he is saying is that an historian needs a firm grounding in philosophic thought and an encyclopaedic breadth of reading. Many of the positions he so vigorously attacks had long been given up

Page 382

by intelligent people a generation ago, so it seems pointless to go on beating a dead horse.

The dangers to historical truth coming today from right and left he dismisses with easy optimism as a mere temporary lapse. This reviewer wishes he could be as sanguine. The interpretation and teaching of history has long been a means of predetermining social attitudes. State and Church found it a ready means of securing that unanimity which is the basis of collective action. Emancipation from this control has been spasmodic and rare, and in our own day we have seen history brought into line with the demands of political expediency to the point even of what seems on any reasonable standard, sheer falsification. The future of history is, we think, bound up with the development of free institutions and the liberal and tolerant attitude of mind. If they survive, history will survive. If not, the study of history will simply consist in straining evidence through the partisan net to secure proof of our particular political tenets.

It would be ungenerous to call attention to the numerous slips. In a work of such sweep, where there are sometimes forty or fifty names or titles on a page, it would be inevitable that errors should creep in. But it seems as if the writer should have guarded against serious omissions which indicate failure to appreciate the significance of a writer or a school, e.g. no mention is made of the contributions of Uspenskii, or Vasilievskii in the field of Byzantine studies.

—S. R. Tompkins

University of Oklahoma

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