Herbert E. Bolton and the Historiography of the Americas

By Russell M. Magnaghi | Go to book overview

Preface

Within American historiography, Herbert Eugene Bolton ( 1870-1953) holds a unique position because of the various directions his studies took. On one level he is listed among "sectional historians" of the United States -- a Western historian who stressed Spain's contribution to North American history.1 He stressed the colonial history of the underbelly of the United States from Florida to California. He coined a term and developed a school called the Spanish Borderlands. However, despite errors in interpretation, Bolton was more than a sectional historian. Going beyond traditional notions of United States history and beyond his mentors, John Bach McMaster and Frederick Jackson Turner, he stressed both the comparative nature of United States colonial history and, his crowning achievement, the history of the Americas concept. Bolton conceived a "Universal American History, that is the history of the Americas from the North Pole to the South Pole and from Columbus to Now." If Western civilization could be studied as a unit, then why not the Western Hemisphere?

In 1919, early in the development of the history of the Americas concept, Bolton described this new form of synthetic history. He based the concept on certain aspects of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier theory. Bolton saw the importance of the coming of European civilization into the New World. It entered the Americas, developed within the new environment, and eventually created the various independent nations and experiences of the nineteenth century. Thus Bolton's history of the Americas started with the general European background, and the cultural and institutional premises of American history, followed by the occupation of the American continents and the transmission of European civilization in the particular national variations (Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish), and ended with colonial expansion and in

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