When Bernard Moses came to the University of California at Berkeley in 1875 he taught every course in history and the social sciences which that new institution offered. This was the beginning of the end of a period when a single scholar could embrace both broad fields of history and the emerging social sciences. Although the demands of specialization were soon to make this impossible, interesting explorations into the history of American scholarship can be made by examining the breadth of work carried on by men such as Moses. In addition to teaching and writing in the fields of European history, Bernard Moses contributed to political economy, and made inquiries into political science, which he founded as a separate discipline at Berkeley in 1903. Having received his graduate training in the Universities of Berlin, Leipzig, and Heidelberg, Moses was well-oriented to the “German School” of historical scholarship. He wrote several monographs and articles on foreign governments, and explored the prerequisites for the development of a science of society.

In addition to his extensive scholarly contributions in several areas, Bernard Moses gradually was drawn more and more toward a new phase of history, one long-neglected by American historians—Hispanic America. His early researches and teaching in the colonial era of Spanish America entitle him to a place as the pioneer American scholar who gave the original impetus to a field that was to enjoy tremendous growth and interest in the twentieth century. While he continued to write widely in other fields, Moses’ main research after 1894 was directed toward this then undeveloped field. This interest continued during his years at the University of California, through his retirement in 1911, and until the year of his death in 1930. A total of seven books, published from 1898 to 1929, and several articles, signify the productivity of his research.

Bernard Moses’ first publications in this field consisted of three articles, the first published by the California Historical Society in 1887, entitled, “Data of Mexican and United States History.” This was followed by a two-part Yale Review article in 1895-96 dealing with the “Early Political Organization of Mexico.” Moses made a plea to historians in 1898 to consider the study of Spanish colonization and the early civilizations in South and Central America. “In order to see any portion of American history in its true light,” he wrote, “we must stand where the whole continent lies within our horizon.”1 The exploration of this “neglected half” of American history would have its beneficial effect on history teaching in the schools, as well. Moses continued:

In history the matter of supreme importance is not in knowing events in themselves, but events in their proper relations, and for this reason the students in our high schools and colleges have a just claim to instruction which shall cover the history of the continent, and present at least the two great and contrasted systems of colonization and government that have been organized and carried out in the English and Spanish colonies, and in the independent nations that have arisen out of these colonies.2

One of Moses’ successors at the University of California, and a leading scholar in Latin American history, Professor Charles E. Chapman, has pointed out that as a pioneer in this field, Moses had to write his own monographs. His books had a somewhat novel style. The story Moses told was not necessarily a continuous and united whole, but more often a series of essays which bore a relation to the general title. Chapman wrote that

Often some rare or little-known work in a foreign tongue would be digested to serve as the basis for a single chapter, with other volumes being used in like manner as the foundation for other chapters. Always his investigations were painstaking and scholarly.3

Published in 1898, Moses’ The Establishment of Spanish Rule in America is important both for historiographical reasons and for the fact that it remains the first scholarly history of colonial Hispanic America by a professor of the subject, with a student following, to be published in the United States. It headed the impressive list of publications that followed from the growing interest in Spanish America. Following the revision of this volume in 1907 came the publication in 1908 of South America on the Eve of Emancipation. This volume covered the same period of time as the first work, but was less exhaustive and less detailed. Most of the chapters were in the nature of separate articles.

In Chapman’s opinion the two-volume Spanish Dependencies in South America (1914), together with Spain’s Declining Power in South America, 1730-1806 (1919) were among the best of the Moses contributions on colonial Hispanic America. The Dependencies covered the history of Spanish South America from about 1550 to 1730, when Spanish colonial civilization was taking on its characteristic forms. The Declining Power volume carried the story from the prior two-volume work. The themes that these works dealt with were the increasing social importance of the creoles and mestizos, the disastrous effects of Spain’s commercial policy, the decline of loyalty to the mother country, and the successful struggle for independence.4

Spanish Colonial Literature in South America (1922) covered the entire colonial era prior to 1810. It gave a detailed account of writers and their works, and, in Chapman’s view, was then probably the best volume in English for information of this type, since Moses knew the printed works on colonial Hispanic America possibly better than any Anglo-American student of his time. In his introduction Moses stated that he aimed to introduce the reader to the men of letters in the colonies who wrote under the inspiration of their experience in the New World, whether their contributions were in the realm of poetry, history, geographical description, or ecclesiastical discussion.

Moses apologized for what he regarded as the short-comings of his Intellectual Background of the Revolution in South America, 1810-1824, written in 1926 when he was eighty years old, by explaining in the first line of the preface, “This sketch might have become a book if the light had not failed.” Even though his eyesight, if not his intellectual powers, was failing, Moses’ book, in Chapman’s opinion, had not been equalled by anything else in English on the subject. In it Moses sought to get to the body of thought and opinion that lay behind the practical enterprises of the revolution. At the age of eighty-three Moses reversed the prediction of his publisher, the Hispanic Society, which rashly announced upon publication of the 1926 volume that this would be the last contribution from Moses’ pen. In spite of the fact that his eyesight was practically gone, he managed, with the help of his wife, to complete his last work one year before his death. This was Spain Overseas, an essay of slightly more than one hundred pages on the Spanish social order in the colonies in America and the Philippines, published in 1929.

Not only was Bernard Moses a pioneer in the historical scholarship of Latin America; in 1894-95 he first offered his course in Spanish American History and Institutions, probably the first course on this subject in a college or university in the United States. In it he dealt with Spanish settlement and administration during the colonial period, the Wars of Independence, and the political development of the Spanish American republics. The University of Pennsylvania was next to offer a similar course. The third course in this field appeared at the University of Texas, where Herbert Bolton began teaching a graduate course in Spanish Colonization in 1904.5 In the same year William R. Shepherd offered a course on the history of Spanish America at Columbia University. In 1899-1900 Moses introduced a new course in Spanish Constitutional History, which was designed to be taken concurrently with Spanish-American History and Institutions. Even after Moses became head of the new Department of Political Science in 1903, he continued as a member of the History Department, where he taught a course in Latin-American Colonization.

Bernard Moses’ continuing interest in the Latin American field was strengthened by numerous official and academic excursions to Mexico and South America. After returning from the Philippine Islands in 1903, where he had served for three years as a member of the original Philippine Commission under William Howard Taft, he spent a year doing research in South America in 1906, and in 1908 he was again called into public service, this time as a delegate to the Pan American Scientific Congress in Santiago, Chile. In 1910 he was appointed a member of the Fourth International Conference of American States in Buenos Aires. The orientation meetings in Washington, D. C., prior to his departure for South America, gave Moses the opportunity to renew his friendship with President Taft. Also in the year 1910 Moses was one of the ministers plenipotentiary on a special mission to Santiago, Chile. The occasion of this latter assignment was the one hundredth anniversary of the Chilean war of independence. While in Santiago he was elected honorary professor of the University of Chile.6 Professor Moses’ visits to South American countries were long remembered, as were the eloquent phrases and beautiful language of his speeches, which he always delivered in Spanish. On these trips Moses took occasion to acquire historical and political collections of materials on South America which he used after his retirement in his later writings on Hispanic American history.7 He also traveled widely in an unofficial capacity, making trips to Japan, Spain, and other countries.

In addition to Bernard Moses’ contributions as the father of the social sciences at the University of California, and his work toward the development of academic political science, he will also be remembered for the impulse he gave to the study of Hispanic American history in the United States. He was a pioneer in emphasizing the fact that American history is not merely the history of the English-speaking peoples, but includes the American conquest and colonization by the peoples of the Iberian peninsula. At the beginning of the twentieth century Moses was probably the only professor in the United States devoting all of his research to Hispanic American subject matter. The result of Moses’ writing and research was to modify the attitude of American teachers and scholars toward the history of the American continent. Although scholars such as Herbert E. Bolton, Charles E. Chapman, and Herbert I. Priestley were later to add extensively to this field at the University of California, Bernard Moses remains as a pioneer teacher and scholar in the development of Latin American history.


Bernard Mo6ses, “The Neglected Half of American History,” University Chronicle, I (April, 1898), p. 122.


Ibid., pp. 122-23.


Dictionary of American Biography, XIII (New York: 1934), p. 274.


Charles E. Chapman, Colonial Hispanic America: A History (New York: Macmillan, 1933), pp. 373-74.


Tom B. Brewer, “A History of the Department of History of the University of Texas.” Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1957.


National Cyclopaedia of Biography, XXVI (New York: 1937), p. 120.


University of California, Addresses Delivered at the Memorial Service for Bernard Moses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1930), p. 25.

Author notes


The author is an assistant professor at San Jose State College, San Jose, California.