One of the first professional historians of West Virginia, James Morton Callahan (November 4, 1864-March 16, 1956) was born at Bedford, Indiana. He was educated at Southern Indiana Normal School, Indiana University, and Johns Hopkins University. He was awarded a Ph.D. by Johns Hopkins in 1897, where he studied under Herbert Baxter Adams, one of the nation’s most renowned historians. From 1898 to 1902, Callahan was lecturer in history at Johns Hopkins and served concurrently as director of the Bureau of Historical Research in Washington.
In 1902, he was appointed chairman of the Department of History and Political Science at West Virginia University at a time when those disciplines were gaining new attention and invigoration. In 1916, Callahan became dean of the WVU College of Arts and Sciences, a position he held until 1929.
Callahan continued to pursue his interests in international relations, a field in which he was a pioneer. Among his numerous published works were American Foreign Policy in Mexican Relations, American Foreign Policy in Canadian Relations, and American Relations in the Pacific Far East. In 1913, when West Virginia celebrated a half-century of statehood, Callahan wrote the popular Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia. Later he was the author of a three-volume History of West Virginia, Old and New, a work in the traditional mode of one volume of history and two volumes of biographies. His wife, Maude Fulcher Callahan, was also interested in state and local history and assisted her husband in the preparation of History of the Making of Morgantown: A Type Study in Trans-Appalachian Local History.
Long after he had retired, Callahan remained a familiar figure on the Morgantown campus. With his white hair, white suit, and white shoes, he was for many students a commanding figure even as he was nearing his 90s. In 1963–64, West Virginia University established the Callahan Lectures as a tribute to his services to the university and the state.
This Article was written by Otis K. Rice
Last Revised on September 27, 2012
Jack L. Hammersmith. James Morton Callahan: The Making of a West Virginia Historian. West Virginia History, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 2011.