The 1980s were certainly years of turmoil and upheaval fueled by both domestic conflict and a questionable foreign policy, and these years also posed some difficult questions for historians searching for explanations. Could an appreciation of history provide insights into a particular epoch or an understanding of domestic issues? In his Wimmer Memorial Lecture, History and Relevance, Howard Mumford Jones explored these questions and affirmed the relevance of history.
According to Jones, “It is, I think, true that a good many stresses and strains in our society are, if not new in character, novel in intensity. Yet the historian muses on much that is traditional in these conflicts.” History, he concluded, does teach a valuable lesson. Only by patience and reflection “do we amid a thousand blunders slowly improve the lot of man.”
“And to the study of man in this large sense,” Howard Mumford Jones concluded his Wimmer Memorial Lecture, “the humanities and history must remain forever committed.”
Howard Mumford Jones (1892-1980) taught English at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Montana at Missoula, and the University of North Carolina. In 1936, he accepted an offer to become an English professor at Harvard, where he taught for 26 years while also serving as the University’s Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences between 1943 and 1944. Jones has published a variety of books including America and French Culture: 1750-1848, for which he was awarded the Jusserand Medal from the American Historical Association in 1932, and the 1965 Pulitzer Prize-winning O Strange New World.
History and Relevance was the 22nd lecture in the Wimmer Memorial Lecture Series (1947-1970) at Saint Vincent. It was given in 1969.