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Useful History and Black Identity

  • Paul H. Mattingly (a1)


What kind of explanation does history promote? Does history give us an advantage in dealing with current as well as bygone problems? These two different questions assume very similar burdens when historians defend the “usefulness” of their writing and research. The demand that history be “useful” impinges especially hard on the profession today in the areas of educational and black history. The reasons are, or should be, obvious. What is less obvious at the moment is which of the many meanings of “useful” do historians find most compelling. In the past, the professional and educational role of the historian has been largely affected by the questions he poses to deal with in the “usefulness” of his discipline.



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1. Hexter, J. H., “The Rhetoric of History,History and Theory, VI, No. 1 (1967), 313; H. Hexter., J. “The One That Got Away,” New York Review of Books, VIII, No. 2 (February 9, 1967), 24–28; Passmore, John, “Explanations in Everyday Life, in Science and in History,” History and Theory, II, No. 2 (1962), 105–23.

2. Ellison, Ralph, The Invisible Man (New York: Signet Books, 1952). All subsequent references pertain to this edition.

3. Ibid., p. 270.

4. Ibid., p. 212.

5. Ibid., p. 478.

6. Ibid., p. 502.

7. Pocock, J. G. A., rev. essay of Hexter, J. H., “Reappraisals in History,History and Theory, III, No. 1 (1963), 121–35.

Useful History and Black Identity

  • Paul H. Mattingly (a1)


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