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That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (Ideas in Context) [Paperback]

Peter Novick
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 30, 1988 0521357454 978-0521357456
The aspiration to relate the past "as it really happened" has been the central goal of American professional historians since the late nineteenth century. In this remarkable history of the profession, Peter Novick shows how the idea and ideal of objectivity was elaborated, challenged, modified, and defended over the past century. Drawing on the unpublished correspondence as well as the published writing of hundreds of American historians, this book is a richly textured account of what American historians have thought they were doing, or ought to be doing, when they wrote history-how their principles influenced their practice and practical exigencies influenced their principles. Published with the support of the Exxon Education Foundation.

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That Noble Dream: The 'Objectivity Question' and the American Historical Profession (Ideas in Context) + Telling the Truth About History (Norton Paperback) + The Return of Martin Guerre
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Professional historians and aspiring professionals will welcome this immensely informative and thoughtful book." E. Cassara, Choice

"Peter Novick has written an unprecedented and invaluable study of the idea of objectivity among historians...He has written a rich and powerful narrative. No other scholar has made such a marvelous contribution to our understanding of the history profession during its first century." David W. Noble, Reviews in American History

"This is a work marked by admirable clarity, wide-ranging and imaginative research, and thoughtful judgements. At one level it explores a question of central concern to scholars of many disciplines--the quest for objectivity in research and writing. Displaying impressive command of intellectual history, Novick situates this quest in broader currents of American thought over the past century. That Noble Dream is finally a serious and often provocative treatment of the professionalization in the United States of the discipline of history." From the Allen J. Beveridge Award Citation

"This is a work marked by admirable clarity, wide-ranging and imaginative research, and thoughtful judgements. At one level it explores a question of central concern to scholars of many disciplines--the quest for objectivity in reading and writing. Displaying impressive command of intellectual history, Novick situates this quest in broader currents of American thought over the past century. That Noble Dream is finally a serious and often provocative treatment of the professionalization in the United States of the discipline of history." From the Allan C. Beveridge Award Citation

Book Description

The evolution of the "idea" and "ideal" of objectivity is traced over the past century from a selection of unpublished as well as published writings of hundreds of American historians.

Product Details

  • Series: Ideas in Context (Book 13)
  • Paperback: 662 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 30, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521357454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521357456
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
(14)
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
85 of 90 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"That Noble Dream" is Peter Novick's magisterial history of the American historical profession and its alternating romance and dissaffection with "objective" historical scholarship from the late nineteenth century to the 1980s.

The German historical profession with its domineering Herr Professor and impressive array of analytical "techniques," Mr. Novick tells us, provided the initial model for American historiography. In Leopold von Ranke, young American scholars found a paragon of "wissenschaftlich" (interpreted as scientific) empirical scholarship. (Oddly, Ranke was neither a strict empiricist nor particularly scientific in his approach to writing history.) Transferred to the other side of the Atlantic, a mythical interpretation of German historiography served to legitimate an inductive, empirical approach to history that puported to uncover the past "wie es eigentlich gewesen" -- the way it actually was. Eschewing both hypothesis and epistemological speculation, American historians enthroned "objectivity" as the goal of their infant profession.

Mr. Novick explains that the ideal of objectivity was reinforced by an ideologically homogenous group of professional historians who used objectivity as the yardstick for career advancement and as a "prophylactic against conflict" within their ranks. Among other convictions, it was firmly believed that objective scholarship would serve to protect American students from the evils and distortions of propaganda.

It was not long before a reaction developed against these pseudo-Rankean "data gatherers," as they pejoratively came to be known.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for every historian December 9, 2003
Format:Paperback
When a professor assigned Peter Novick's "That Noble Dream" as one of the last readings in one of my seminars, I blanched. Who, I inwardly groaned, would force students to read a book this huge in the waning weeks of the semester, a time when the heavy weight of tests, papers, and grading exams rests on your shoulders? "Look at the size of that font! How in the heck are we supposed to get through that thing in a week?" wailed a fellow sufferer, echoing what we all thought as we blearily thumbed through the book. Initial skimming seemed to confirm that this would be one of those scholarly books that take years off your life even as you promptly forget what you read a mere five minutes ago. Now, I've done some power reading during my tenure as an undergraduate and graduate student; I once cruised through Herodotus in two days and Thucycdides in even less time. You learn to accept things like this in the unnatural world of the academy. With lengthy papers due at the same time I opened this book, I decided to power stuff this one. Even now I can hear the knowing snickers of graduate students across the nation who may be reading this review, seminar hardened souls amused to no end that I actually assumed I had to READ the book. I can hear the chorus: just skim through it over the course of a few hours, learn the main argument, take a few notes, and nod sagely in class.
Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the end of Novick's treatment of the noble profession: I rapidly discovered that this book is brilliant; a veritable cathedral of razor sharp analysis, amazing use of primary source material, and all written with one eye firmly planted on the bigger picture. What human being is capable of this Gibbonesque treatment of the American historical profession?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Tour De Force December 24, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
So many of my graduate school cohorts were so intimidated by this great work that they could not even read it. Many of them talked about how it was too complex, too complicated, and boring. I, however, completely disagree. I picked up this book and began to read from the beginning and literally could not stop. It is stunning to get so much information about the profession of history, the process of professionalization, and many of the great personalities in the field of history. Novick walks the reader through the development of the profession with clarity and nuance. Everyone who thinks they are a student of history simply is not until they have read this magnificent work whether you agree with his conclusions or not.
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37 of 50 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars deconstructing decronstruction October 26, 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
For all the attention given in recent years to the social context of discourse, remarkably little has been given to the way in which the context of modern academia shapes the way we think about the past. One of the really satisfying things about Peter Novick's 1988 book, That Noble Dream, his history of the American historical profession, is the way-despite its tendency toward relativism and complacency-it turns the armamentarium of critical historical scholarship against the activity of critical historical scholarship itself. One can't read the book and not come away with a deep sense of how much our sense of the past has been hopelessly muddled by the internal imperatives of the profession. It is by endless cycles of cutting and slashing, revising and revisioning, "neo"ing and "post"ing, interrogating and all the rest of the tedious professional jargon, that reputations are made, empires are built, careers are jumpstarted, and-not to put too fine a point on it-tenure is won and promotion secured. The dynamic of revisionism, a dynamic of churning, incessant novelty, serves the cause of academic careerism even more than it does the cause of political correctness. And such careerism and specialization has the effect of stamping out an appreciative sense of the past.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to historiography
Well-written, informative, cogently argued. As the title suggests, Dr. Novick argues that historical objectivity is an illusory and unobtainable goal, however commendable. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Cassian Ardent
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and Accessible.
Great book for historians. Explains the origins of American academic histories better than any other book I've found. It was very helpful for my lit review on narrative history. Read more
Published 3 months ago by SassyNerd
5.0 out of 5 stars This should be a graduate school primer
If you want to be an academic, you probably wrestle with your own validity to touch on subjects as an "expert." This book helps you sort through all of this.
Published on June 3, 2011 by E. Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars The Nobel Dream
This book was something I had to buy for a class. It was in good condition but I had to force myself to read it. Read more
Published on December 22, 2010 by bstinson68
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed account of the american historical profession
Peter Novick's That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession is book of tendencies. Read more
Published on March 24, 2010 by Ryan Walker
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, though not for everybody
Novick's book on the "Holocaust and Modern Memory" is a perfect example of craft and honesty by a great historian. Read more
Published on October 3, 2008 by Miguel Aguiar
1.0 out of 5 stars Valuable, but only with cautious scrutiny
This author writing about objectivity seemed to really struggle with it himself. There is so much bias present that it's difficult to discern when Novick is speaking or when he is... Read more
Published on June 25, 2006 by Kia Darling
2.0 out of 5 stars Deliberate misrepresentation of evidence
Deliberate misrepresentation of evidence and plagiarism are among the most grievous sins a historian may commit. Read more
Published on April 15, 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Novick's Revenge
While Novick's book is interesting, he is not free of bias and subjectivity himself. One might easily regard his portrayal of the now infamous David Abraham affair as a hack job to... Read more
Published on August 27, 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed by this layman
In this book, Novick says that he finds the idea of historical objectivity "essentially confused", that many of the philosophical assumptions behind it are "logically and... Read more
Published on December 1, 2000
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