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Reflections on History, Education, and Social Theories

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

V. P. Franklin*
University of California, Riverside


Historians need social theories to conduct their research whether they are acknowledged or not. Positivist social theories underpinned the professionalization of the writing of history as well as the establishment of the social sciences as “disciplines,” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. August Comte's “science of society” and theories of evolution were attractive to U.S. historians and other researchers dealing with rapid social and economic changes taking place under the banner of American and Western “progress.” Progressive and “pragmatic” approaches were taken in dealing with the social wreckage created by the expanding industrialization, increasing urbanization, and huge influx of southern and eastern European immigrants. In addition, social theories and philosophical trends also served as the ideological underpinning for historians writing about the “white man's burden” that was said to have brought European and American “civilization” to the indigenous peoples in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the islands of the Pacific who came to be dominated by military might with collaboration from local elites.

Copyright © 2011 by the History of Education Society 

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1 Furner, Mary O., Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865–1905 “Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1975“; Haskell, Thomas L., The Emergence of Professional Social Science: The American Social Science Association and the Crisis of Authority “Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977”.

2 Boiler, Paul F., American Thought in Transition: The Impact of Evolutionary Naturalism, 1865–1900 “Chicago, IL: Rand McNally, 1969“; Butterfield, Herbert, The Whig Interpretation of History “1931; reprinted New York, 1965”; Iggers, Georg G., Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge, 2nd ed. “Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005”, 36–47.

3 Olsen, James, ed. Historical Dictionary of European Imperialism “Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991“; Porter, Andrew, European Imperialism, 1860–1914 “New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1994”; Parkenham, Thomas, The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1816 to 1912 “London: Avon Books, 1992”; Esterley, William, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Little Good “New York: Penguin Books, 2006”; Gatewood, Willard, Black Americans and the White Man's Burden, 1898–1903 “Urbana; University of Illinois Press, 1975”.

4 McGerr, Michael, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in the United States, 1870–1920 “New York: Oxford University Press, 2005“; McNeese, Tim, The Progressive Movement: Advocating Social Change “New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2007”; Stromquist, Stephen, Reinventing “the People”: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism “Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006”.

5 Dewey, John, School and Society “1901; reprinted Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1915“; Cremin, Lawrence A., The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957 “New York: Knopf, 1961”; Graham, Patricia A., Progressive Education from Arcady to Academe: A History of the Progressive Education Association “New York: Teachers College Press, 1967”.

6 Hofstader, Richard, The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, and Parrington “New York: Knopf, 1968“.

7 Novick, Peter, Than Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession “New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988“, 333.

8 Ibid., 440–44; Sharpe, Jim, “History from Below,” in New Perspectives on Historical Writing, ed. Peter Burke “University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992“, 24–41.

9 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class “1963; reprinted New York: Pantheon, 1964“; and The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays “New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978”; Hobsbaum, Eric, Laboring Men “London: Weidenman and Nicolson, 1964”; and Bandits “New York: Delacorte Press, 1969”; and The Age of Capital, 1848–1875 “London: Weidenman and Nicolson, 1975”; Gramsci, Antonio, Letters from Prison “New York: Harper and Row, 1973”; and Buttigeig, Joseph, ed., Antonio Cramsci Prison Notebooks “New York: Columbia University Press, 1992”; Harris, Marvin, Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture “New York: Random House, 1979”; Williams, Raymond, Culture and Materialism “London: Verso Books, 2006”.

10 For an introduction to the French Annales School, see Burke, Peter, The French Historical Revolution: The Annales School “Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 1990“.

11 For a study examining the ways historians can profit from the use of Foucault, Derrick, Gadamer, and other poststructuralists’ theoretical insights, see Clark, Elizabeth A., History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn “Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004“.

12 The reason we know that Foucault, Derrida, Eco, and other poststructuralists were taught in graduate programs in history is because their inclusion was criticized by political historians; see Hexter, J. H., On Historians: Reappraisals of Some of the Modern Makers of History “Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979“; Megill, Eli Allen, Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice “Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007”.

13 Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century, 133.

14 Political autobiographies can be used productively as ideological statements from social actors reflecting on intellectual camps and social actions, see Franklin, V. P., Living Our Stories, Telling Our Truths: Autobiography and the Making of the African American Intellectual Tradition “New York: Oxford University Press, 1996“.

15 Connor, David J. and Ferri, Beth, “Integration and Inclusion—A Troubling Nexus of Race, Disability, and Special Education,” The Journal of African American History 90 “Winter/Spring 2005“: 107–27; Jordan, Kathy Anne, “Discourses of Difference and the Over-Representation of Black Students in Special Education,” Journal of African American History 90 “Winter/Spring 2005”: 128–49; Chateauvert, Melinda, ed. Special Issue: “Discourses on Race, Sex, and African American Citizenship,” Journal of African American History 93 “Spring 2008”: 149–261; this issue included five articles on these topics and Amy Abugo Ongiri, “Prisoner of Love: Affiliation, Sexuality, and the Black Panther Party,” Journal of African American History 94 “Winter 2009”: 69–88.

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16 Freire, Ana Maria and Macedo, Donaldo, ed., The Paulo Freire Reader “New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2000“. For historians and other researchers’ discussions of Freirian analysis, see Leonard, Peter and McLaren, Peter, ed., Paulo Freire: A Critical Encounter “New York: Routledge, 1992”; and Shor, Ira and Pari, Caroline, ed., Critical Literacy in Action: Writing Words/Changing Worlds—A Tribute to Paulo Freire “Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook Publishers, 1999”; and Shaughnessy, M. F., Galligan, E., A. Hurtado De Vives, eds., Pioneers in Education: Essays in Honor of Paulo Friere “Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2008”.

17 Bourdieu, Pierre and Passeron, Jean Jacques, Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture “London: Sage Publications Ltd., 1977“, 69–106; Bourdieu, Pierre, “Outline of the Theory of Practice: Structures and the Habitus,” in Practicing History: New Directions in Historical Writing After the Linguistic Turn, ed., Spiegel, Gabrielle M. “New York: Routledge, 2005”, 179–98. For a detailed review of the literature in education examining Bourdieu's influence in educational research, see Dika, Sandra L. and Singh, Kusum, “Applications of Social Capital in Educational Literature: A Critical Synthesis,” Review of Educational Research 72 “Spring 2002”: 31–60.

18 Sowell, Thomas, “Black Excellence: The Case of Dunbar High School,” Public Interest 35 “Spring 1974“: 1–21; Jones, Faustine, ATraditional Model of EducationalExcellence “Washington, DC, 1984”; Cecelski, David, Along Freedom Road: Hyde County, North Carolina, and the Fate of Black Schools in the South “Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994”; Walker, Vanessa Siddle, Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South “Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996”; Franklin, V.P., “Introduction—Cultural Capital and African American Education,” The Journal of African American History 88 “Spring 2002”: 175–82; Franklin, V. P. and Savage, Carter Julian, eds., Cultural Capital and Black Education: African American Communities and the Funding of Black Schooling, 1865 to the Present “Westport, NY: Information Age Press, 2004”; Hoffschwelle, Mary S., The Rosenwald Schools of the American South “Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2006”; Walker, Vanessa Siddle and Byas, Ulyssus, Hello Professor: A Black Principal and Professional Leadership in the Segregated South “Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009”.

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