In 2020, a few months before his death at the age of ninety-seven, the historian Bernard Bailyn published a series of reflections on a distinguished career that spanned seven decades. The recipient of two Pulitzer prizes in history, Bailyn reached the end of his life deeply concerned about the future of profession he so deeply loved.
In “Bernard Bailyn: An Historian to Learn From,” Robert Paquette, President of The Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI), uses Bailyn’s Illuminating History: A Retrospective of Seven Decades as a lens through which to review Bailyn’s major contributions both to history and its practice. Each of the books five chapters, Paquette writes, “serves as kind of a scenic overlook during episodes of a lengthy intellectual journey.”
History holds no easy lessons. Its complexities demand imagination and rigor. Historians, Bailyn insisted, “ ‘must at bottom be honest storytellers. In the practice of history . . . one assume[s] that the reality of the past can be subjected to useful inquiries, that among the responses to those inquiries some views can be shown to be more accurate depictions of what actually happened than others, and that the establishment, in some significant degree, of a realistic understanding of the past, free of myths, wish fulfillments, and partisan delusions, is essential for social sanity.’”
Paquette’s review appears in the spring 2021 issue of Academic Questions, a journal published by the National Association of Scholars and “dedicated to strengthening the integrity of scholarship and teaching.”