Bolton Develops the Americas Concept, 1890-1919
By the early twentieth century, the Americas concept had still not entered college curricula; it remained an obscure undercurrent of American historiography. Between the end of the Spanish-American War and World War I, the United States was rapidly emerging as a world leader and greater emphasis was being placed on the Western Hemisphere. The Americas concept needed a historian who could further define it and bring it to the attention of other historians.
Thus, the stage was set for the coming of Herbert E. Bolton and the development of his ideas. For Bolton, this intellectual development was a continuum that began in the closing decade of the nineteenth century and continued throughout most of his life. Working toward the concept of the history of the Americas and building on the work of his predecessors, he established a number of important subfields within American historiography, such as the Spanish Borderlands and comparative colonial history. However, Bolton's most significant work was the history of the Americas.
At first glance, Bolton's rural Midwestern upbringing gives little indication of the direction he would take and the subsequent impact that direction would have on history. Bolton was born on July 20, 1870, in Wilton, Wisconsin, and was raised in the rural countryside where Spanish America and the role of Spain in American history were little known or appreciated.1As a matter of fact, in correspondence written during the Spanish- American War, Bolton identified himself as a "'still unreconstructed' Black Legend man, the traditional American who found little, if any, good to say of the Spaniards, past and present, in their relations with the Americas."2
Despite the attitude Bolton carried toward Spain as a graduate student, growing up in Wisconsin did provide him with valuable experience. In the late nineteenth century, local Winnebago Indians were still a part of