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On Teaching the History of Christianity: Traditions and Presuppositions

  • E. Brooks Holifield (a1)


In his presidential address to the American Society of Church History in 1920, Robert Hastings Nichols observed that he had discovered, in his reading of previous addresses, “no mention of the reading of a paper dealing with what is the occupation of almost half of our members, the teaching of Church History,” or, as he preferred to call it, the teaching of “Christianity in History.” He decided, therefore, to talk about pedagogy. He devoted most of his address to answering the question why history should be taught in the theological seminary, arguing that it trained students to weigh evidence, calculate motives, trace causes, and estimate the power of social movements. It nurtured a certain kind of intellectual and moral capacity.



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1. Nichols, Robert Hastings, “Aims and Methods of Teaching Church History” (1920), Papers of the American Society of Church History, 2nd ser., vol. 7 (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1923), 39, 40, 42.

2. Rudolph, Frederick, Curriculum: A History of the American Undergraduate Course of Study Since 1636 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977), 177; Hamerow, Theodore S., “The Professionalization of Historical Learning,” Reviews in American History 14 (09., 1986): 319–33.

3. Rudolph, , Curriculum, 47; Warch, Richard, School of the Prophets: Yale College, 1701–1740 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973), 191–95; Fisher, John Alonzo, “A Select Bibliography of Ecclesiastical History,” Methods of Teaching History, ed. Hall, G. Stanley, 2nd ed. (1st ed., 1883; Boston: D. C. Heath, 1884), 343–85; Adams, Herbert Baxter, “The Teaching of History,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1897 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898), 251, as cited in Bowden, Henry Warner, Church History in the Age of Science: Historiographical Patterns in the United States 1876–1918 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971), 26; Deus Lux Mea: Solemnities of the Dedication and Opening of the Catholic University of America, November 13, 1889 (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1890), 80; Nuesse, C. Joseph, The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990), 114.

4. White, Joseph M., The Diocesan Seminary in the United States: A History from the 1780s to the Present (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 141.

5. Thompson, J. Earl Jr., “Church History Comes to Andover: The Persecution of James Murdock,” Andover Newton Quarterly 15 (03 1985): 214.

6. Ibid., 220, 222–23.

7. Ibid., 226.

8. Miller, Samuel, The Life of Samuel Miller, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Faxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger, 1869), 2:Part III:9; Wright, Conrad, “The Early Period (1811–40), The Harvard Divinity School: Its Place in Harvard University and in American Culture, ed. Williams, George Huntston (Boston: Beacon, 1954), 53; Dawley, Powell Mills, The Story of General Theological Seminary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 44; Wayland, John T., The Theological Department in Yale College 1822–1858 (New York: Garland, 1987), 178.

9. Handy, Robert T., A History of Union Theological Seminary in New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 40; Smyth, Egbert C., Value of the Study of Church History in Ministerial Education: A Lecture Delivered to the Senior Class of Andover Theological Seminary (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1874), 5.

10. Smith, Henry Boynton, Nature and Worth of the Science of Church History: An Inaugural Address Delivered Before the Directors of the Union Theological Seminary, New York, Feb. 12, 1851 (Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1851), 5.

11. Wayland, Francis and Wayland, H. L., A Memoir of the Life and Labors of Francis Wayland, 2 vols. (1st ed., 1867; New York: Arno, 1972), 2:225–26, 233.

12. Rosell, Garth M., “A Speckled Bird: Charles G. Finney's Contribution to Higher Education,” Fides et Historia 25 (1993): 5859; Rudolph, , Curriculum, 69.

13. Rudolph, , Curriculum, 79; Miller, , Life of Samuel Miller, 2:404.

14. Dawley, , Story of General Theological Seminary, 22; White, , Diocesan Seminary, 141; Ellis, John Tracy, Essays in Seminary Education (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides, 1967), 145, 242.

15. Chandler, Douglas R. and Goen, C. C., Pilgrimage of Faith: A Centennial History of Wesley Theological Seminary 1882–1982 (Washington, D.C.: Seven Lochs, 1984), 26; White, , Diocesan Seminary, 258. Westminster moved to Washington, D.C. in 1958, when it was renamed as Wesley Theological Seminary.

16. Yates, Frances A., The Art of Memory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1966), 127, 129–60, 199243; Menard, Pierre, “The Pedagogy of Johann Sturm (1507–1589) and its Evangelical Inspiration,” Studies in the Renaissance 13 (1966): 210; Wittrock, M. C., “Knowledge Acquisition and Comprehension,” Encyclopedia of Educational Research, 6th ed., 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:699700; Caruthers, Mary J., The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 114, 82; Hall, David D., Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996), 59; Parkerson, Donald H. and Parkerson, JoAnn, Transitions in American Education: A Social History of Teaching (New York: Routledge Falmer, 2001), 98.

17. Russell, William, “Cultivation of the Reflective Faculties,” American Journal of Education 4 (1857): 201; Anon., “Sketches of Hofwyl,” American Annals of Education and Instruction 2 (1832): 15, 497508.

18. Russell, , “Cultivation of the Reflective Faculties,” 201.

19. Burgess, John W., “The Methods of Historical Study and Research in Columbia College,” Methods of Teaching History, 218.

20. Wayland, , Theological Department, 176.

21. “Fifty-Third Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York” (1839), 107, in Callcott, George H., “History Enters the Schools,” American Quarterly 11 (1959): 477.

22. Johnson, Thomas Cary, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer (Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1906), 154, 162.

23. Schaf, David S., The Life of Philip Schaff (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897), 126; Kremer, Abner, “Memories of Dr. Philip Schaff at Mercersburg,” Reformed Church Messenger, 85 (11 16, 1916): 8; Pranger, Gary K., Philip Schaff (1819–1893): Portrait of an Immigrant Theologian (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 76; Shriver, George H., “Philip Schaff as Teacher of Church History,” Journal of Presbyterian History 47 (1969): 79.

24. Miller, , Life of Samuel Miller, 2:403; Henry, Hugh T., “A New Method of Teaching History,” American Ecclesiastical Review 19 (1898): 471, 477.

25. French, F. C., “Lectures Versus Recitations,” Educational Review 23 (1902): 345–46; Adams, Herbert Baxter, “Special Methods of Historical Study,” Methods of Teaching History, 117, 120; De Garno, Charles, “The Lecture System in University Teaching,” Educational Review 23 (1902): 111.

26. De, Garno, “Lecture System,” 111.

27. Emerton, Ephraim, “The Practical Method in Higher Historical Instruction,” Methods of Teaching History, 32, 35.

28. Bowden, , Church History in the Age of Science, 97; Scott, Henry E., “The Courses of Study in History, Roman Law, and Political Economy at Harvard University,” Methods of Teaching History, 179; Emerton, “Practical Method,” ibid., 31–36.

29. Burgess, , “Methods of Historical Study,” Methods of Teaching History, 218.

30. Haines, Deborah L., “Scientific History as a Teaching Method: The Formative Years,” Journal of American History 63 (1977): 909; Bowden, , Church History in the Age of Science, 101.

31. Adams, Charles K. to Adams, Herbert B., 9 02 1886,” Historical Scholarship in the United States 1867–1901: As Revealed in the Correspondence of Herbert B. Adams (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press, 1938), 79; Bowden, , Church History in the Age of Science, 12; Rosell, , “A Speckled Bird,” 62; Emerton, , “Practical Method,” Methods of Teaching History, 39.

32. Haines, , “Scientific History as a Teaching Method,” 895, 897.

33. Rauschenbusch, Walter, “The Influence of Historical Studies on Theology,” American Journal of Theology 11 (1907): 119; Emerton, , “Practical Method,” Methods of Teaching History, 38.

34. Emerton, Ephraim, “A Definition of Church History,” in Papers of the American Society of Church History, ed. Loetscher, 59, 61.

35. Smyth, , “Value of the Study of Church History,” 28.

36. Robinson, James Harvey, “Teaching European History in College,” Educational Review 15 (1898): 33.

37. Emerton, , “Practical Method,” Methods of Teaching History, 41.

38. Adams, Charles K., A Manual of Historical Literature (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882), 7, cited in Bowden, , Church History in the Age of Science, 23.


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