Allan Nevins

Allan Nevins

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Allan Nevins was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 and journalist
Journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

, renowned for his extensive work on the history of the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 and his biographies of such figures as President Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents...

, Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish was an American statesman and politician who served as the 16th Governor of New York, United States Senator and United States Secretary of State. Fish has been considered one of the best Secretary of States in the United States history; known for his judiciousness and reform efforts...

, Henry Ford
Henry Ford
Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry...

, and John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

.

Life


Born in Camp Point, Illinois
Camp Point, Illinois
Camp Point is a village in Adams County, Illinois, United States. The population was 1,244 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Quincy, IL–MO Micropolitan Statistical Area.Journalist and historian Allan Nevins was born in Camp Point on 20 May 1890....

, Nevins was educated at the University of Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign is a large public research-intensive university in the state of Illinois, United States. It is the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system...

, where he earned an M.A. in English in 1913. He worked as a journalist in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and began writing books on history. In 1929, he joined the history faculty of Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, and in 1931 was named Dewitt Clinton Professor of History there. He was appointed Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University from 1940 to 1941 and again from 1964 to 1965. In 1948 he created the first oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

 program to operate on an institutionalized basis in the U.S., which continues as Columbia University's Oral History Research Office. After he retired from Columbia, he relocated to California, where he worked at the Henry E. Huntington Library. He died in Menlo Park, California, in 1971.

Work


Nevins wrote more than 50 books, mainly political and business history and biography focusing on the nineteenth century, in addition to his many newspaper and academic articles. The hallmarks of his books were his extensive, in-depth research and his vigorous, almost journalistic writing style. The subjects of his biographies include Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland
Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and therefore is the only individual to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents...

, Abram Hewitt, Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish
Hamilton Fish was an American statesman and politician who served as the 16th Governor of New York, United States Senator and United States Secretary of State. Fish has been considered one of the best Secretary of States in the United States history; known for his judiciousness and reform efforts...

, Henry Ford
Henry Ford
Henry Ford was an American industrialist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry...

, John C. Frémont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

, Herbert Lehman, John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

, and Henry White
Henry White (diplomat)
Henry White was a prominent U.S. diplomat during the 1890s and 1900s, and one of the signers of the Treaty of Versailles....

. The biographies provide in-depth coverage of United States political, economic and diplomatic history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nevins's biography of Grover Cleveland won the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography
The Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography has been presented since 1917 for a distinguished biography or autobiography by an American author.-1910s:* 1917: Julia Ward Howe by Laura E...

. He also added significantly to the scholarship on President Cleveland by publishing a volume of Cleveland's correspondence spanning the years 1850-1908.

Ordeal of the Union


Nevins' greatest work was Ordeal of the Union
Ordeal of the Union
Ordeal of the Union, an eight-volume set on the American Civil War by Allan Nevins, is one of the author's greatest works, ending only with his death...

(1947–71), an 8-volume comprehensive history of the coming of the Civil war, and the war itself. (He died before he could address Reconstruction, and thus his masterwork ends in 1865.) It remains the most detailed political, economic and military narrative of the era. Nevins's Ordeal of the Union has a slight but perceptible pro-Union bias, just as Shelby Foote
Shelby Foote
Shelby Dade Foote, Jr. was an American historian and novelist who wrote The Civil War: A Narrative, a massive, three-volume history of the war. With geographic and cultural roots in the Mississippi Delta, Foote's life and writing paralleled the radical shift from the agrarian planter system of the...

's three-volume masterwork has a slight but perceptible bias towards the Confederacy.

Nevins also planned and helped to edit a pioneering 13-volume series exploring American social history
Social history
Social history, often called the new social history, is a branch of History that includes history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. In its "golden age" it was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments...

, "A History of American Life".

His biographer explains the Nevins style:

Nevins used narrative not only to tell a story but to propound moral lessons. It was not his inclination to deal in intellectual concepts or theories, like many academic scholars. He preferred emphasizing practical notions about the importance of national unity, principled leadership, [classical] liberal politics, enlightened journalism, the social responsibility of business and industry, and scientific and technical progress that added to the cultural improvement of humanity.

John D. Rockefeller


Nevins wrote several books on John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

 and the Rockefeller family, including the three-volume authorized biography of John D. Rockefeller. These projects later attracted the criticism of business journalist Ferdinand Lundberg:
It was in the course of doing work for the five Rockefeller books that Nevins developed the interesting thesis that the American corporate adventurers to whom Matthew Josephson
Matthew Josephson
Matthew Josephson was an American journalist and author of works on nineteenth-century French literature and twentieth-century American economic history.-Biography:...

 gave the enduring name of ‘The Robber Barons
Robber baron (industrialist)
Robber baron is a pejorative term used for a powerful 19th century American businessman. By the 1890s the term was used to attack any businessman who used questionable practices to become wealthy...

’ were in fact American heroes, builders of the American civilization and democracy. He invited other historians to follow in his footsteps in this thesis, but so far nobody has conspicuously accepted. And if anyone does, one will be able to see the American intellectual horizon further muddled. I have given writers like Nevins the sobriquet of ‘counter-savants’. A savant, or man of learning, is devoted to increasing knowledge. And knowledge has the function of deepening understanding. A counter-savant, however, is a man of knowledge who uses his knowledge, for reasons known only to himself, to obfuscate understanding, to confuse readers. The fact is that Nevins’ corrective portrait of Rockefeller is not only false with respect to the central character, but frustrates understanding with the unsophisticated reader. (The Rockefeller Syndrome, New York: Lyle Stuart, 1975, p. 145.)


Contrary to Lundberg's observations, historians and biographers such as Jean Strouse, Ron Chernow, David Nasaw, and T. J. Stiles have written in the Nevins vein, chronicling the lives and careers of such figures as J. Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. He was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of...

, Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American industrialist, businessman, and entrepreneur who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century...

, and Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

. Though these later biographers did not go so far as Nevins did in conferring heroic status on their subjects, they recognized the importance of such historical and biographical investigations to establishing a clearer and more complex understanding of the American past in general, and the history of American economic development in particular.

John F. Kennedy


An enthusiastic supporter of then-Senator John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

, Nevins wrote the foreword to the inaugural edition of Kennedy's Profiles in Courage
Profiles in Courage
Profiles in Courage is a 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate's history. The book profiles senators who crossed party lines and/or defied the public opinion of their constituents to do what they felt was...

. He also joined his friend, frequent co-editor, and Columbia colleague Henry Steele Commager
Henry Steele Commager
Henry Steele Commager was an American historian who helped define Modern liberalism in the United States for two generations through his forty books and 700 essays and reviews...

 in organizing "Professors for Kennedy", a political advocacy group that played key roles in the 1960 presidential election. In the late 1960s, Nevins and Commager parted ways over the issue of the war in Vietnam
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 -- a war that Commager opposed on constitutional grounds and Nevins supported as a necessary part of the struggle in the cold war
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 against Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

.

Radio


On radio, Nevins was the host of the 15-minute Adventures in Science, which covered a wide variety of medical and scientific topics. As a segment of CBS' Adult Education Series
Adult Education Series
Adult Education Series was the umbrella title for three different CBS Radio educational programs, all under the supervision of Sterling Fisher....

, it was broadcast from May 6, 1938 until August 18, 1957, airing on various days, usually in the late afternoon.

Major books

  • The Evening post; a century of journalism (1922)
  • The American states during and after the revolution, 1775-1789 (1927) online edition
  • A History of American Life vol. VIII: The Emergence of Modern America 1865-1878 (1927)
  • Frémont, the West's greatest adventurer; being a biography from certain hitherto unpublished sources of General John C. Frémont, together with his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, and some account of the period of expansion which found a brilliant leader in the Pathfinder (1928) online edition
  • Polk; the diary of a president, 1845–1849, covering the Mexican war, the acquisition of Oregon, and the conquest of California and the Southwest, (1929)
  • Henry White; thirty years of American diplomacy (1930)
  • Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (1933)
  • Letters of Grover Cleveland, 1850–1908; (1933)
  • Dictionary of American Biography (1934–36); Nevins wrote 40 articles on Alexander Hamilton, Rutherford B. Hayes, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, etc.
  • Abram S. Hewitt: with same account of Peter Cooper. (1935)
  • Hamilton Fish; the inner history of the Grant administration, (1936) online edition vol 1 online edition vol 2
  • The Gateway to History 1938. online edition
  • The emergence of modern America, 1865-1878 (1941)
  • Ordeal of the Union (1947–1971).
    • 1. Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847–1852;
    • 2. A House Dividing, 1852–1857;
    • 3. Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos, 1857–1859;
    • 4. Prologue to Civil War, 1859–1861;
    • 5. The Improvised War, 1861–1862;
    • 6. War Becomes Revolution, 1862–1863;
    • 7. The Organized War, 1863–1864;
    • 8. The Organized War to Victory, 1864–1865
  • Ford with the collaboration of Frank Ernest Hill, 3 vols. (1954–1963)
  • John D. Rockefeller: The Heroic Age of American Enterprise. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (1940)
  • Study In Power: John D. Rockefeller, Industrialist and Philanthropist. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (1953)