Eliohs: Electronic Library of Historiography
Collane Catalogo Generale Altre Risorse Home

John Franklin Jameson (*)

The History of Historical Writing in America

John Franklin Jameson, The History of Historical Writing in America, 1891
URL: testi/800/jameson/jameson.html
HTML edition by Guido Abbattista, June 1996


I. The historians of the Seventeenth century (p. 1)

II. The historians of the Eighteenth century (p. 42)

III. From the Revolution to the Civil War (p. 80)

IV. Since the Civil War (p. 122)


These four Lectures upon the history of historical writing in America were read before public audiences in the hall of the Johns Hopkins University in January and February, 1887, and in that of Brown University in February and March, 1889. The third and fourth were printed in Englische Studien in 1888 and 1889, and the four, after a considerable revision, appeared in the New England Magazine in 1891.

Brown University, Providence R. I.
May 21, 1891

A Biographical Notice

JOHN FRANKLIN JAMESON (1859-1937), historian, born in Somerville, near Boston, Mass. on September, 19, 1859, graduated from Amherst in 1979, received the degree of Ph. D. at Johns Hopkins in 1882 under Henry Baxter Adams, and taught at Johns Hopkins (assistant and associate professor of history, 1882-88), Brown (professor of history, 1888-1901) and Chicago (professor and head of the department of history, 1901- 1905) universities. He was director of the department of historical research of the Carnegie Institution, Washington D. C., from 1905 to 1928; in this position he led a campaign for a National Archive building and promoted the publication of guides to foreign archives and American historical documents. A distinguished representative of American historical scholarship, he was chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress from 1928 to 1937, chairman of the Historical Manuscripts Commission, President of the American Historical Association and Managing Editor of the American Historical Review from its foundation in 1895 to 1901, and from 1905 to 1928. As chairman of the Committee of Management, he played a major role in the planning and execution of the Dictionary of American Biography. He died on September 28, 1937.
Jameson was one of the leading figure in the process of professionalization of American historiography between XIXth and XXth centuries. He criticized his Johns Hopkins teacher Henry Baxter Adams as a representative of that sort of antiquarianism and merely local, anecdotal history that it was his purpose to overcome in the name of a more scientific and empirical, that is fully document-based, approach to historical research. In his most famous work, The American Revolution as a Social Movement, issued from a fortunate series of lectures held in 1925, he advanced the thesis that the most salient feature of the American Revolution had not been the war for independence from Great Britain, but the struggle between aristocratic values, mentality and styles of life, and the tendency of the common people toward a levelling democracy.

His main works are: Willem Usselinx, Founder of the Dutch and Swedish West India Companies (1887), History of Historical Writing in America (1891), Dictionary of United States History (1894), The American Revolution considered as a Social Movement (1926). He edited Essays in the Constitutional History of the United States (1889), The Correspondence of John C. Calhoun (1900), Original Narratives of Early American History (1906-1917), Privateering and Piracy (1923). Among his most important articles is to be remembered his assessment of the state of the historical discipline in America in the essay on «The American Historical Review, 1895-1920», American Historical Review, 26 (1920-21): 1 ff.

The first edition of the History of Historical Writing in America was published in Boston, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1891. A reprinting has been made by Greenwood Press, Publishers, New York, 1969.

Sources: Dictionary of American Biography, Second Supplement; Concise Dictionary of American Biography (New York, 1964); Who was Who in America (vol. I, Chicago, 1965, 5th reprint); The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (1893- 1909); O. Adams, Dictionary of American Authors (1897); B. J. Lossing, Harper's Encyclopaedia of United States History (1902); T. W. Herringshaw, Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography, 1909-1914.

Translation: La Rivoluzione Americana come Movimento Sociale (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1960)

Bibliography (chronological order):

  1. F. B. Tolles, The American Revolution considered as a Social Movement: a reevaluation (1954); see it also in Italian translation as an introduction to the above mentioned Italian edition of Jameson 1926 work.
  2. Nicola Matteucci, «McIlwain storico e teorico del costituzionalismo», introduction to the Italian edition of Ch. McIlwain, The American Revolution. A Constitutional Interpretation (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1964, 1st American edition, 1923); see it now in Id., La Rivoluzione Americana: una Rivoluzione Costituzionale (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1987), 15-170.
  3. James T. Kloppenberg, «Objectivity and Historicism. A Century of American Historical Writing», American Historical Review, 94, 4 (1989): 1011-1030
  4. John Higham, History: Professional Scholarship in America (Baltimore, 1989, 1st ed. 1973)
  5. Morey D. Rothberg and Jacqueline Goggin, eds., John Franklin Jameson and the Development of Humanistic Scholarship in America (Athens, Ga., 1993-)
  6. In American Historical Review, 89, 4 (October 1984), a monographic issue devoted to «The American Historical Association: the First Hundred Years, 1884-1994», see the essays by:
    • Morey D. Rothberg, «'To Set a Standard of Workmanship, and Compel Men to Conform to it': John Franklin Jameson as Editor of the American Historical Review», pp. 957-975
    • David D. Van Tassel, «From Learned Society to Professional Organization: the American Historical Association, 1884-1900», pp. 929-956
    • August Meier and Elliot Rudwin, «John Franklin Jameson, Carter G. Woodson and the Foundation of Black Historiography», pp.1005-1015.
    • Dorothy Ross, «Historical Consciousness in XIXth Century America», pp. 909-919.
  7. David Thelen, «The Practice of American History», Journal of American History, 81 (1994): 933-960
  8. Gordon S. Wood, «A Century of Writing Early American History: Then and Now Compared; Or, How Henry Adams Got it Wrong», American Historical Review, 100, 3 (June 1995): 678-696