At the last meeting of the Historical Society, Professor Emerton, in an informal lecture, spoke of the methods of study and instruction in history. There are three methods now pursued by instructors, which are suitable for students of different ages. First, by imparting facts in a vivid and very interesting manner. This method would only apply to children in the primary schools. Second, by paying more attention to the philosophical part of history, showing the relation between different events, and the bearing of particular instances on general laws. This method could be profitably carried on in high schools and colleges. Third, the method of investigation, which should be the work of students at Universities. Investigation, by reference to original sources of all kinds, may be made for the purpose of settling disputed points, or for discovery of unknown matter. The great difficulty instructors at Harvard feel in applying the method of investigation is the lack of preparation of the students when entering college. Our preparatory schools aim not to fit students for study at a University, but merely to enable them to pass the entrance examinations. Consequently the work at Harvard is often more elementary than the instructors would desire.
These different methods of study need not be carried on entirely apart from one another. If there is an opportunity for younger students to make investigations, as in local history, they should be encouraged in this pursuit, for it cannot fail to give them a lifelong interest in the study of history. In confirmation of this view, Justin Winsor related his youthful experience in collecting information from town records, from the inscriptions on gravestones, and from the traditions of aged people of the neighborhood.
Mr. Cohn thought that the great difficulty in investigation in the United States was the lack of original sources of all European, and of early American history. These records are all in Europe and contain a great mass of unpublished matter. By consulting these documents, an investigator in the old Counties is sure to be rewarded for his labor by some discovery.
After this discussion, several anecdotes about the proclamation of the second Empire of France, Napoleon III and the Emperor of Germany were related, which enlivened a most instructive and interesting evening.