Title Reviewed:
An Historian's World, Selections from the Correspondence of John Franklin Jameson

Author Reviewed:
Elizabeth Donnan; Leo Stock

John D. Barnhart


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 320-322

Article Type:
Book Review

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An Historian's World, Selections from the Correspondence of John Franklin Jameson. Edited by Elizabeth Donnan and Leo Stock. (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1956. Pp. xi, 382. Frontispiece, preface, introduction, and indices. $6.00.)

In the vernacular of today John Franklin Jameson might be called "Mr. History," not because he wrote notable histories of many volumes, nor because he edited vast collections of source materials, but because he played a part, usually an important part in almost every undertaking of the historical profession. He was among a small group of historians who managed the American Historical Association, manned its committees, and arranged its programs. From 1895 when he became the first editor of the American Historical Review until his death in 1939, Jameson was one of the foremost leaders in the founding of historical agencies, the development of research facilities in history, and the collection and publication of historical sources. He was most significant in helping the new scientific historians become established, adopt high standards, and grow to their present number and professional status. Other historians excelled in many things, but it is doubtful that any equalled him in the service he rendered to the historical profession.

Because he was unable to go to Europe for his graduate training, he received the first Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University in 1882, and remained a member of its teaching staff for six additional years. While connected with Johns Hopkins he made friends of an important group of future leaders of the historical profession including Charles H. Haskins, Woodrow Wilson, and Frederick J. Turner. He also published Introduction to the Study of Constitutional and Political History of the States (1886), and "Willem Usselinx" (1887).

For thirteen years (1888–1901), Jameson taught at Brown University and, while so engaged, was chosen chairman of the Historical Manuscripts Commission of the American Historical Association as well as editor of the American Historical Review. He also published Essays in Constitutional History (1889), The History of Historical Writing in America (1891), the "Letters" of Phineas Bond (1896), the "Letters" of Stephenson Higginson (1896), a "Guide to the Items Relating to American History in the Reports of the English Manuscripts Commission" (1898), and the Correspondence of John C. Calhoun (1899).

He was persuaded to accept the chairmanship of the department of history of the University of Chicago in 1901, a position in which he was not completely contented. Consequently four years later, when Andrew C. McLaughlin decided to return to teaching, Jameson took his place as head of the Bureau of Historical Research of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and again became the editor of the American Historical Review, a position from which he had resigned upon going to the University of Chicago. He remained head of the Bureau and editor of the Review until 1928. During these years many important historical projects were completed and others advanced towards fulfillment.

Among the significant publishing activities of this period with which Jameson was associated in one way or another were The Original Narratives of Early American History (19 vols., 1906–1917), of which Jameson edited two volumes and served as general editor of the series; the series of Guides to the Material for American History in foreign archives; Writings on American History (1904- ); and the Correspondence of Andrew Jackson (7 vols., 1926–1935), of which Jameson was joint editor with John Spencer Bassett.

A final period in Jameson's career occurred after the Carnegie Institution decided to retire Jameson in 1929 when he reached seventy years of age and to reduce its expenditures in support of history. He received, however, an offer of the chief clerkship in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress which he accepted in 1928. For nine years he continued his historical activities, often utilizing the expert workmanship of various members of the profession, his own experienced supervision, and funds from private persons, the American Council of Learned Societies, or from government sources. The Dictionary of American Biography (22 vols., 1929–1944), The Territorial Papers of the United States (1934- ), an extensive project of photocopying materials from European archives, The Records of the Virginia Company (vols. 3 and 4, 1935), are the result in some manner of Jameson's leadership. Probably his greatest contribution was his tireless labor in support of the National Archives, which fortunately was rewarded with success before his death.

This volume is in a sense a memorial in recognition of his service. In addition to an excellent introduction prepared by Elizabeth Donnan, it contains selected letters of Jameson arranged chronologically and in periods of his career. They are amply documented and indexed. Often they reveal bits of information about individuals with whom Jameson worked. Sometimes the notes contain short quotations from letters which Jameson was answering. The workmanship embodied in this volume seems as nearly perfect as one could wish. Two features may be queried; the lack of a bibliography of Jameson's publications and the awkward and forbidding size of the work. The importance of Jameson's publications and his relations with many other publications would easily have justified the labor of compiling a bibliography. Nevertheless, the American Philosophical Society has sponsored a worthy volume. The editors who did not live to see their work published will be pleasantly recalled because of the labor they expended on this work.

John D. Barnhart Indiana University

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.