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Probing the Deep: Theory and History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Nancy Beadie*
University of Washington, Seattle


Professor Tamura, in her paper “Narrative History and Theory,” poses an issue with which I have lately wrestled. She reviews, first of all, some of the challenges to the tradition of narrative history presented by “social-scientifically oriented historians” like Fernand Braudel and “analytic philosophers” like Hayden White in the 1960s and 1970s, and then goes on to note that more recently, a turn to narrative among social scientists and a use of theory by historians suggests the possibility of combining narrative and theory in historical work. Overall, Professor Tamura expresses a sanguine view of the prospects for such integration. While narrative “provides a causal account and allows us to relive events,” theory “allows us to analyze more effectively the forces that are beneath the surface.” My own efforts to write a history of education in the early Republican era that moves back and forth between telling the stories of ordinary people and using social capital theory to analyze the place of schooling in larger patterns of social, economic, and political change, lead me to share Professor Tamura's interest in the possibilities, and at the same time to identify some of the challenges, of such work.

Copyright © 2011 by the History of Education Society 

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1 Beadie, Nancy, Education and the Creation of Capital in the Early American Republic “New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010“. A summary of some of the theoretical and narrative issues of the work appears in Nancy Beadie, “Education and the Creation of Capital: or What I Have Learned from Following the Money,” History of Education Quarterly 48, no. 1 “February 2008”: 1–29.

2 My advisor at Syracuse University was Briggs, John W., known particularly for his work on Italian immigrant communities in the United States. See An Italian Passage: Immigrants to Three American Cities, 1890–1930 “New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978“.

3 Bloch, Marc, The Historian's Craft “New York: Vintage, 1953“.

4 The Seattle-based quotation justifying the city's first full-scale desegregation plan appears in: Letter from the Office of the Mayor of the City of Seattle, Uhlman, Wes, to Olson, Don, President of the Seattle School Board, dated 20 May 1977. The letter was written on behalf of a coalition of civic groups including the Seattle Urban League, the Seattle Municipal League, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. The letter expressed and documented the coalition's combined official support for “voluntary” adoption of Seattle's first, full-scale bussing for desegregation plan. The plans were in fact adopted by the School Board 8 June 1977 in the form of Resolution 1977–1978, “Definition of Racial Imbalance and 1978–79 and 1979–80 Percentage Goals Resulting in the Elimination of Racial Imbalance.” The resolution itself stated the goal of desegregation as “providing all children with an opportunity for a quality multiracial education.” Both documents are part of the case records for a Supreme Court case that ensued when voters passed a state-level anti-bussing initiative, Initiative 350, passed in 1978 and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Washington v. Seattle School District No. 1 458 US 457 “1982”. I am indebted to my former student Shawn Olson Brown, “Strategies of Resistance: Initiative 350 and the Legal and Political History of School Desegregation in Seattle, 1977–1982” “unpublished graduate paper, College of Education, University of Washington, 1998”, for her work on this topic and for obtaining these documents for me. The quotation justifying the idea of the comprehensive high school is from the “Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education,” Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education, 1918.

5 I am thinking here of a number of recent and ongoing studies of the consequences of desegregation which, like Eick's study, are based on qualitative oral history interviews with people who participated in desegregation in the 1970s and 1980s as students and/or as teachers. The most famous of these is Amy Stuart Wells and colleagues, Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation's Graduates “Berkeley: University of California, 2009”. A fascinating Seattle-based study of this kind is Veninga, Catherine E., “Road Scholars: School Busing and the Politics of Integration in Seattle” “unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Washington, 2005“, which I discussed in my 2009 Division F Vice-Presidential Address, Beadie, Nancy, “From Kansas to Seattle: The Contested History and Legacy of the ‘Common School’ in a ‘Post-Racial’ Society,” presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, 2009. I am aware through conference presentations of other similar studies; for example by Kathleen Murphy on Ft. Wayne, Indiana and by Seabrook Jones on Louisville, KY.

6 Tropea, Joseph L., “Bureaucratic Order and Special Children: Urban Schools, 1890s–1940s,” History of Education Quarterly 27, no. 1 “Spring 1987“: 29–53; Tropea, Joseph L., “Bureaucratic Order and Special Children: Urban Schools, 1950s–1960s,” History of Education Quarterly 27, no. 3 “Autumn 1987”: 339–61; Richardson, John G., Common, Delinquent, and Special: the Institutional Shape of Special Education “New York: Falmer Press, 1999”.

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7 Gaither, Milton, American Educational History Revisited: A Critique of Progress “New York: Teachers College Press, 2003“; Lagemann, Ellen, An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research “Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000”; Kimball, Bruce, Orators & Philosophers : A History Of The Idea Of Liberal Education “New York: Teachers College, 1986”; Kimball, Bruce, The “True Professional Ideal” In America: A History “Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992”; Dzuback, Mary Ann, “Gender and the Politics of Knowledge,” History of Education Quarterly 43, no. 2 “June 2003”: 171–195; Dzuback, Mary Ann, Robert M. Hutchins: Portrait of an Educator “Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991”; Reuben, Julie, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality “Chicago: University of Chicago, 1996”; Justice, Benjamin, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly 45, no. 2 “June 2005”: 171–206; Bieze, Michael, Booker T. Washington and the Art of Self-Representation “New York: Peter Lang, 2008”.

8 Gottesman, Isaac, “The Critical Turn in Education: the Emergence of Marxist Thought and the Rise of an Academic Left from the 1960s to the 1980s” “unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Washington, 2009“; Weaver, Heather, “The Imagined Schoolhouse: A Mass-Cultural History of Education in America” “unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Washington, 2009”. I refer here to treating changes in thought and culture as historical in their own right, rather than as backdrops for policy issues.

9 Bender, Thomas, Community and Social Change in America “Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982 [Rutgers University Press, 1978]”, 23.