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Previous American Society of Church History (ASCH) presidents have used their presidential addresses for a variety of purposes, from contributing to the cutting edge of their own specialties to scanning the previous highlights of personalities or developments in their field.
My first subscription to Church History was in 1965, which came about the same way many people first began receiving the journal in those days—Ray Petry, our medievalist in graduate school at Duke University, recommended that anyone who was interested join the ASCH in order to receive the journal.
The relationship between history and tradition has long been convoluted, just as any consensus on the definition of either term is difficult to achieve. The tongue-in-cheek comment by Jean Cocteau that “history is facts which become lies in the end; legends are lies which become history in the end” is only one of many quotable quips that glance lightly off the interstices of these two universes of discourse. Such humor, nevertheless, is not that far removed from the canons of serious discussion. The realities that these two terms represent, as well as their nature, their goals, and their points of contact, provide the framework for our reflections herein.