The American historian Charles McLean Andrews (1863-1943) originated the version of colonial history that places the English settlements in America within the larger context of the British Empire.
Charles McLean Andrews was born in Wethersfield, Conn., on Feb. 22, 1863. He graduated from Trinity College in 1884 and began teaching at West Hartford High School. Dissatisfied, Andrews left in 1886 to enter graduate school at Johns Hopkins. There he worked under Herbert B. Adams, a leading figure in the movement to professionalize history and an exponent of the "germ" theory of history, which traced American political institutions from German origins. In keeping with his mentor's interest, Andrews studied towns in Connecticut. However, his dissertation, The River Towns in Connecticut (1899), questioned some of Adams's assumptions.
Andrews took his first teaching position at Bryn Mawr in 1889. His continued research to test the germ theory resulted in The Old English Manor (1892). The following year Andrews's interest shifted back to American colonial history, although he continued to teach and to write textbooks in European and world history.
Andrews married Evangeline Walker in 1895 and continued to teach at Bryn Mawr, taking a leave sponsored by the Carnegie Institution in 1903-1904 to work on a guide to manuscripts in the British Museum. In 1904 he saw publication of his Colonial Self-Government, 1652-1689. By 1907 Andrews's reputation was such that he was asked by Johns Hopkins to fill Adams's chair, which had been vacant 6 years. He moved to Johns Hopkins and published with Francis G. Davenport the Guide to the Manuscript Materials for the History of the United States to 1783 in the British Museum and Other Depositories (1908), a work Andrews believed would make him famous.
Unhappy at Johns Hopkins, Andrews moved to Yale to become professor of American history, edit the Yale Historical Series, and teach graduate courses in American colonial history. In 1912 another of his works, The Colonial Period, appeared. This book anticipated many of Andrews's later ones, emphasizing the interaction between England and the Colonies and the progressive antiquation of British colonial policy as compared with the innovative nature of colonial institutions. Seven years later Andrews combined his insights in social history and popular culture in two volumes, The Fathers of New England and Colonial Folkways.
In 1924 Andrews became acting president of the American Historical Association. His Colonial Background of the American Revolution (1924), regarded as one of his best books, maintains that an understanding of British colonial policy is essential to understanding the American Revolution. The next year Andrews became president of the association.
After his retirement from Yale in 1931, Andrews continued to labor on his final major work, The Colonial Period of American History (4 vols., 1934-1938), the first volume of which won a Pulitzer Prize. He failed to complete three additional volumes planned. He died on Sept. 9, 1943.
The standard biography of Andrews is Abraham Seldin Eisenstadt, Charles McLean Andrews: A Study in American Historical Writing (1955), which is sympathetic to Andrews and his work. Good evaluations of Andrews's place as a historian may be found in Michael Kraus, The Writing of American History (1953); in Harvey Wish, The American Historian: A Social-Intellectual History of the Writing of the American Past (1960); and in Lawrence Henry Gipson's "The Imperial Approach to Early American History," an essay by a famous student of Andrews, in Ray Allen Billington, ed., The Reinterpretation of Early American History: Essays in Honor of John Edwin Pomfret (1966).