Charles Austin Beard, Historian

Beard in 1917

Charles Austin Beard (1874 – 1948) was born in Indiana, expelled from Quaker school, finally graduated from High School and eventually ran the area newspaper with his brothers. He attended DePauw University, running the newspaper there and graduating in 1898. He continued his studies at Oxford in 1899 and returned to the US with his wife in 1902 where he studied at Columbia University. He received his doctorate in history in 1904 and immediately joined the faculty as a lecturer.  In order to provide his students with reading materials that were hard to acquire, he compiled a large collection of essays and excerpts in a single volume: An Introduction to the English Historians (1906). This became a standard in education.

He moved through the ranks at Columbia, teaching in Public Law and Barnard College. He continued to write for journals, textbooks and political magazines. He  also coached the debate team and wrote about public affairs, especially municipal reform. He left Columbia University during the first World War as he disagreed with how the University was being managed, but still wanted to be involved in education.

He was not the last to leave the University in a dispute about academic freedom and management of faculty. His friend James Harvey Robinson also resigned from Columbia in May 1919 to become one of the founders of the New School for Social Research and serve as its first director. The Beards were active in helping Robinson found the New School for Social Research  where the faculty would control its own membership. Charles never taught there and did not seek a permanent position ever again. He lived off the royalties from the many textbooks and articles he continued to write.

Beard’s political views often went against the mainstream, but added perspective to interventionist and isolationist philosophies. By the 1950s his economic interpretation of history had fallen out of favor; only a few prominent historians held to his view of class conflict as a primary driver in American history.

Beard died in New Haven, Connecticut, on September 1, 1948 on the farm he shared with his wife.

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