The essays which follow fall somewhere between informal discourses and polished presentations probably much nearer to the former than the latter. Similarly, the collection as a whole falls somewhere between a volume intended for a fairly small circle of intimate friends and colleagues who may forgive its shortcomings and a broader group of fellow-historians who may be more critical. Clearly there is much room for criticism, for correction, and for disagreement

The only unifying thread is the basic theme: history as knowledge of the past. Delivered over a period of a decade and a half there are certain to be some inconsistencies in the use of words and phrases, some ambivalent positions, some ambiguities of style, and a good deal of repetition. Beyond some attempts to avoid blatant tendentiousness little effort has been made to eliminate these shortcomings. Indeed, one consideration in selecting the essays to be published has been to indicate the different ways that the same formulations have been brought to bear upon the central problem of the nature of history.

Sooner or later every student of history must face this problem. In reaching his position the writer owes more to James C. Malin than to any other person. The essays either singly or as a collection do not reflect accurately the extent of this debt and most certainly do not indicate the depth and scope of Malin's analysis of the nature of history. His principal contributions have been in print for many years and to them the interested reader must turn.

One of the principal reasons for publishing the essays at this time is to provide the writer with a public and tangible means of acknowledging his indebtedness to Malin. The development of this debt began more than forty-five years ago in a freshman course in English history. As candidate for the master's degree, as research assistant, and finally, as colleague the relationship has continued until the present. Until 1945 the association was characterized by long intervals of discourse by correspondence only, but since that date the writer and Malin have shared desks, offices, and classrooms, and the same residential street.

A few years prior to 1945 Malin had become involved in historiographical controversies with the subjectivist-relativist members of the historical profession. For more than a decade it seemed that the opposition would win. Then for a few short years it appeared that the pendulum was swinging in the direction of history as the key discipline in the humanities and history as knowledge of the past.

Contemporary trends in precisely the reverse direction provide the second major reason for publishing these essays at this time. The search for a usable past and for a radical past; the appearance of a group of historians who are pleased to call themselves the "new left," and the overt attempts to enlist history in support of particular reform movements combine to suggest that something needs to be said on behalf of history as an intellectual discipline "whole" in nature and oriented toward the humanities before the current practice of passing historical data through a prism fragments the seamless web of history into all of the shades and colors of the spectrum. The writer has no reason to believe that he is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Indeed, he has every reason to believe that there are voices much more eloquent and better informed than his that are expressing the same views.

The third reason for publication at the present time stems from a mixture of vanity and frustration. Nineteen years as chairman of a department that grew nearly sixfold during his incumbency plus what would now be considered a full-time teaching load in some departments as well as a considerable variety of other academic chores left very little time for reading, research and reflection. The eight essays which follow represent only a part of those that were prepared and delivered. Some who heard them expressed a desire to have copies and some of the writer's graduate students have suggested that they be made available to them.

Finally, the writer considers it a privilege to say that it was the generous offer of John E. Longhurst on behalf of himself and his family, proprietors of the Coronado Press, to publish the essays that provided the final impetus. In the absence of the capacity adequately to express his gratitude to the Longhursts the writer wishes to say a simple "Thank You."

Before closing this introductory statement the writer wishes to thank his daughter, Marianne Anderson Wilkinson, for a valiant effort to correct errors, to clarify meaning, and to reduce the amount of repetitious material. In fairness it should be said that she is not responsible for the survival of many shortcomings.


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Lynn H. Nelson
Lawrence, Kansas
6 November 2000