Eminent historian Bernard Bailyn passed away Friday at the age of 97. His work earned him all the important historical accolades, including two Pulitzers. Many credit him with creating an American Cambridge(Mass.) school of historiography, influencing such students as Pauline Maier, Mary Beth Norton, and Gordon Wood.
No other scholar impacted the study of the American Revolution more than Bailyn. His masterwork, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, continues to challenge readers 50 years after it was published. Bailyn was able to express the unique qualities of American civilization without politicizing the history with talk of exceptionalism.
Bailyn advocated viewing people from the past on their own terms; he cautioned against “presentism” and imposing our values on historical figures.
“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…The fact — the inescapable fact — is that we know how it all came out and they did not.”