University of Chicago Library

Guide to the Bernadotte E. Schmitt Papers 1913-1961

© 2006 University of Chicago Library


Descriptive Summary


Schmitt, Bernadotte E. Papers




2.5 linear feet (5 boxes)


Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


Bernadotte Everly Schmitt (1886-1969) was professor of Modern European History at the University of Chicago from 1924 until 1946.. Schmitt's historical work centered on diplomatic history, particularly the origins of World War I. The Schmitt papers are divided into five series comprising correspondence, speeches and correspondence relating to a public exchange with Robert Maynard Hutchins, research notes, lecture notes, and student papers.

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When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Schmitt, Bernadotte E. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Biographical Note

Bernadotte Everly Schmitt (1886-1969) was a professor of Modern European History at the University of Chicago from 1924 until 1946. From 1939 until his retirement, he was the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor of History. Schmitt's historical work centered on diplomatic history, particularly the origins of World War I.

Born in Strasburg, Virginia, Schmitt came from an academic family. At an early age he entered the University of Tennessee, where his father taught, and he graduated at the age of eighteen. From there he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he spent the next three years (1905-1908) at Merton College. It was during this interval that Schmitt developed an interest in Anglo-German relations. He traveled to Germany in the summer of 1906 and reacted strongly against the evidences of a militaristic state, which he saw there. These observations influenced much of his work on the origins and consequences of the First World War.

After receiving an A.B. from Merton, Schmitt returned to the United States and immediately began a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He graduated in 1910, having written a dissertation on "British Policy and the Enforcement of the Treaty of Berlin, 1878-1887." His first academic appointment was at Western Reserve University in Ohio where he taught modern European history until 1925, rising from lecturer to full professor over the fifteen-year period. He took time out in 1918 to serve in the armed forces, and in 1924 he taught on a temporary appointment at the University of Chicago, in addition to his normal teaching duties.

Before leaving Western Reserve Schmitt published his first major work, England and Germany 1740-1914, which came out in 1916. Like much of his work it concentrated on events, which had just recently occurred, and for which very little previous scholarship existed. Schmitt focused on the decade before 1914, and in this work first set out his thesis that Germany was that country more than any other which pushed the world toward conflict in 1914.

For much of his subsequent career, Schmitt developed and expanded this hypothesis. In 1930 he published The Coming of the War, 1914, a book about the month of July 1914, and the events leading up to the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo. The work represented a marked disagreement with major historians in the field. In 1926 Harry Elmer Barnes, then of Smith College, published a book entitled The Genesis of the World War, in which he stated that Germany could not be blamed for the outbreak of war. Two years later Professor Sidney Fay, also then of Smith College, put out a book entitled The Origins of the World War in which he argued that the quilt had to be shared by many participant nations. Schmitt's book took arms against the interpretations of these two eminent authorities. In the wake of the controversy a small book called Germany Not Guilty in 1914 (Examining a Much Prized Book) appeared in 1931. It was written by historian Michael H. Cochran and included a foreword by Harry Elmer Barnes. The volume was a rebuttal of Schmitt's argument. The phrase "Much Prized" was intended as a pun since Schmitt had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1931, and the George Louis Beer Prize of the American Historical Association.

The Coming of the War, 1914 established Bernadotte Schmitt's reputation in modern European history, and it was followed over the next nine years by three additional important works in the field: Triple Alliance and Triple Entente came out in 1934, followed by The Annexation of Bosnia in 1937, and From Versailles to Munich 1918-1938 which appeared in 1939.

In the same year he married Damaris Ames.

The outbreak of the Second World War put Bernadotte Schmitt at the heart of another controversy. Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, gave a speech on March 30, 1941 calling for the United States to stay out of the European conflict. Schmitt and four of his faculty colleagues strongly opposed this stance and publicly rebutted Hutchins' remarks.

During the war years Schmitt's expertise in European diplomacy was recognized by the United States Government. From 1943 to 1945 he worked in the Office of Strategic Services, and in the years immediately following the War he served as a history consultant to the State Department. Schmitt was also an advisor to the Secretary General at the 1945 United Nations Conference in San Francisco. Finally, in 1946, Schmitt retired from teaching at the University of Chicago as well as from his position as editor of the Journal of Modern History, a post he had held since its founding in 1929.

Additional honors and appointments came to Schmitt during retirement years. In 1949 he was named editor-in-chief of a project called Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918 to 1945. In 1960 he was elected President of the American Historical Association. And in 1967 he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. Schmitt died on March 22, 1969, at the age of 82.

Scope Note

The Schmitt papers are divided into five series comprising correspondence, speeches and correspondence relating to a public exchange with Robert Maynard Hutchins, research notes, lecture notes, and student papers. The collection is contained in five archival boxes.

Series I. Correspondence, consists of three folders of correspondence on political and historical matters from 1913 to 1942. The selection includes a number of letters to editors from Schmitt, letters about the Institute of Politics, with which Schmitt was affiliated, and from fellow historians, including one from Carl Becker.

Series II. Exchange with R. M. Hutchins pertains to Robert Maynard Hutchins' pacifist stance in 1941, and the opposition he aroused among a group of faculty members, including Bernadotte Schmitt. The text of President Hutchins' speech, "The Proposition is Peace," is enclosed, along with the text of Dr. Schmitt's rebuttal. Coverage by the Daily Maroon also includes remarks by four other faculty members who opposed Hutchins' position. Letters sent to Bernadotte Schmitt about his public opposition to the President of the University are enclosed, and in many cases are filed with a carbon copy of Schmitt's response.

Series III. Research Notes. Material in this series is mainly concerned with the First World War. In most cases the notes consist of material typed out from printed sources and from archival documents, with occasional notes in Schmitt's own hand. The notes have been arranged according to a numerical code, which is apparently Schmitt's, and unnumbered items have been placed at the end of the series. The numbers, where they appear, are in the upper left hand corner of the document. Whether the code is topical, bibliographical, or refers to an outline for a manuscript is unclear. Topics range from the Bagdad Railway to continental politics, with some material on the age of exploration and the American colonies.

At the end of the series is Michael Cochran's copy of the Coming of the War of 1914 with the marginal notes Cochran wrote. Subsequently Cochran wrote Germany Not Guilty in 1914 (Examining a Much Prized Book) which took issue with Schmitt's argument.

Series IV. contains lecture notes for a course on European historiography, miscellaneous course exams and descriptions, and material for a course on international law.

Series V. contains a number of student papers from Schmitt's courses in the 1930's. They are arranged alphabetically by author.

Related Resources

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:


Subject Headings


S Series I: Correspondence

Box 1   Folder 1

B. Hartwig

Box 1   Folder 2


Box 1   Folder 3


S Series II: Exchange with Robert Maynard Hutchins

Box 1   Folder 4

Speeches, correspondence

S Series III: Research Notes and the Coming of the War, 1914

Box 1   Folder 5-23

World War I

Box 2   Folder 1-6

World War I

Box 2   Folder 7-9

Miscellaneous- Germany, Austria, East and Far East

Box 2   Folder 10-12

Fact sheets on Germany between the wars

Box 2   Folder 13

Documents; Austria, Britain

Box 2   Folder 14

Documents; Eastern Europe

Box 2   Folder 15

Documents; France

Box 2   Folder 16

Documents; Germany

Box 2   Folder 17

Documents; Internationalism

Box 2   Folder 18

Documents; Spain

Box 2   Folder 19

Documents; United States

Box 3   Folder 1

Photostats of documents from the Vienna Royal and Ministerial Archives 1911-1917

Box 3   Folder 2

Photostats of documents relating to the Serbian government 1914

Box 3   Folder 3

"Confidential Memorandum Presenting Views on the Question of Recognizing the Soviet Union," 1933

Box 3   Folder 4

Outline of The Coming of the War, 1914

Box 3   Folder 5

The Coming of the War, 1914, volume 1, with Michael H. Cochran's notations

Box 4   Folder 1

The Coming of the War, 1914, volume II, with Michael H. Cochran's notations

S Series IV: Lecture Notes

Box 4   Folder 2-12

European Historiography

Box 4   Folder 13

Course descriptions

Box 4   Folder 14

Exam on American colonies

Box 4   Folder 15

International law course material

Series V: Student Papers

Box 4   Folder 16-17

Student papers

Box 5   Folder 1-9

Student papers

Series VI: Reprints

Box 5   Folder 10

"The Peace Treaties of 1919-1920," 1960 "'With How Little Wisdom..." 1961