Date of Award

5-2014

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Jacques Ferland

Second Committee Member

Stephen Miller

Third Committee Member

Scott See

Abstract

This thesis analyzes fourteen histories of the War of 1812, published between 1815 and 1864, and presents them, despite their biases and limitations, as useful and important studies of that conflict. Rejecting Sydney George Fisher’s 1912 argument that nineteenth-century historians of the American Revolution (and, by extension of the widespread acceptance of his viewpoint, most nineteenth-century historians) were too biased and blatantly ahistorical to be of any value, this project instead embraces the argument of Francis Herrick, then president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, who in 1962 argued that the nineteenth-century historians were instead important parts of the development of our growing field. The authors and works studied herein appealed to a popular audience, but also criticized, supported, and built off one another to develop a rich historiography steeped in cross-referenced material and carefully crafted arguments, all laid out before the eyes of the reading public. They saw themselves as objective and impartial historians, and cared deeply about public perception of their arguments as fair and reasonable, regardless of how biased they truly were. Influenced by the politics of their times, these historians wrote to unite their countrymen and inspire a sense of nationalism or imperialism in their readers.

In sum, this thesis serves as a reminder and declaration that pre-academic secondary literature is worthy of examination and consideration, and certainly worth more than the casual and ahistorical dismissal is has endured for the last several decades. Nineteenth-century historians were often biased, but they worked from primary sources, edited to correct for errors, and reviewed one another in an attempt to create an accurate and useful study of the past. The results of their labors offer an insight into one important step along the road to our modem academic historical profession.

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