Herbert Baxter Adams

Herbert Baxter Adams (April 16, 1850 – July 30, 1901) was an American educator and historian.

Herbert Baxter Adams
Herbert Baxter Adams, prominent American historian
Born(1850-04-16)April 16, 1850
DiedJuly 30, 1901(1901-07-30) (aged 51)
Alma materPhillips Exeter Academy,
Amherst College,
Scientific career
FieldsEducator and historian
InstitutionsJohns Hopkins University
Thesis(Ph.D summa cum laude, without written dissertation) (1876)
Academic advisorsJohann Gustav Droysen
Johann Kaspar Bluntschli
Doctoral studentsCharles Homer Haskins
Frederick Jackson Turner


Adams was born to Nathaniel Dickinson Adams and Harriet (Hastings) Adams in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. On his mother's side, he was a descendant of Thomas Hastings who came from the East Anglia region of England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.[1]

Adams received his early training in the Amherst, Massachusetts public schools followed by Phillips Exeter Academy. He graduated from Amherst College in 1872.

In 1873 Adams traveled to Europe to study and write. In 1874 he then moved to Heidelberg, Germany to pursue the Ph.D. degree. There he was influenced by Johann Gustav Droysen and Johann Kaspar Bluntschli, the latter also becoming his mentor. Heidelberg did not then require a thesis from its doctoral candidates, instead it required an oral examination, for which he chose political science for his major field (Hauptfach), with two minors (Nebenfächer) in public and international law and in political and cultural history. Adams took the oral examination on July 13, 1876, which he passed summa cum laude.[2]

The new Johns Hopkins University, which opened in 1876, wanted to bring German-style graduate education to the United States. Adams was hired as fellow in history from 1876 to 1878, associate from 1878 to 1883, and was appointed associate professor in 1883. He is credited with bringing the study of history into the realm of the social sciences: "Adams, with his German training, was determined to inaugurate through the seminar system the scientific study of history based on careful, critical examination of the sources. He hoped to make the study of history an independent professional pursuit rather than a mere branch of literature."[3]

From 1878 to 1881 Adams was also a lecturer in history at Smith College.[4]

At Johns Hopkins, in 1880, Adams began his famous seminar in history, where a large proportion of the next generation of American historians trained. Among his students were Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Dixon, Jr.. Adams founded the "Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science," the first such series. He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1881.[5] He brought about the organization in 1884 of the American Historical Association, for which he was secretary until 1900, when he resigned and was made first vice president.[6] His historical writings introduced scientific methods of investigation that influenced many historians, including Frederick Jackson Turner and John Spencer Bassett. He authored Life and Writings of Jared Sparks (1893) and many articles and influential reports on the study of the social sciences.

"Adams…sought to trace American political institutions back to the primitive democracy of the ancient Germanic tribes. The Anglo-Saxonists were staunch racists in their outlook, believing that only latter-day Aryan or Teutonic nations were capable of self-government."[7]:388

His principal writings are The Germanic Origin of the New England Towns; Saxon Tithing-Men in America; Norman Constables in America; Village Communities; Methods of Historical Study, and Maryland's Influence upon Land Cessions to the United States. All these papers are published in the Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, edited by Prof. Adams, 4 vols. (Baltimore, 1883–1986). Although less known for his contributions to the history of education, Adams was essential to its early development. He edited the circular series titled, "Contributions to American Educational History," which was printed and distributed by the U.S. Bureau of Education.

Herbert B. Adams died in 1901.



  1. Buckminster, Lydia N.H., The Hastings Memorial, A Genealogical Account of the Descendants of Thomas Hastings of Watertown, Mass. from 1634 to 1864. Boston: Samuel G. Drake Publisher (an undated NEHGS photoduplicate of the 1866 edition), 19.
  2. Cunningham, Raymond J. (1981). "The German Historical World of Herbert Baxter Adams: 1874-1876". The Journal of American History. Organization of American Historians. 68 (2 (Sep., 1981)): 261–275. doi:10.2307/1889972. JSTOR 1889972.
  3. "Herbert Baxter Adams." Encyclopedia of World Biography.|Retrieved October 30, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/herbert-baxter-adams
  4. “Professor Herbert Baxter Adams” by B. J. Ramage in The American Historical Magazine Vol. 6, No. 4 (OCTOBER, 1901), pp. 363-366
  5. American Antiquarian Society Members Directory Archived 2017-04-27 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Adams, Herbert Baxter" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  7. Bloomfield, Maxwell (1964). "Dixon's The Leopard's Spots: A Study in Popular Racism". American Quarterly. 16 (3). pp. 387–401.
  8. "Herbert Baxter Adams Prize". American Historical Association. 2008-01-11. Archived from the original on 2008-07-04. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
  9. "Herbert Baxter Adams Professorship". Retrieved 2019-04-01.



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