Vernon Louis Parrington
|Vernon Louis Parrington|
Parrington, c. 1909
August 3, 1871|
|Died||June 16, 1929
Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England
|Subjects||American politics; American studies|
|Spouse(s)||Julia Rochester Williams (married 1901)|
Vernon Louis Parrington (August 3, 1871 – June 16, 1929) was an American historian and football coach. His "progressive" interpretation of American history was highly influential in the 1920s and helped define Modern liberalism in the United States. His works fell out of favor among scholars in the 1940s.
Born in Aurora, Illinois, to a Republican family that soon moved to Kansas, Parrington attended Emporia College and Harvard College (BA 1893). He was appalled by the hardships of Kansas farmers in the 1890s, and began moving left. After teaching English at Emporia College (now Emporia State University) he moved to the University of Oklahoma in 1897, where he taught British literature, organized the department of English, coached the football team, played on the baseball team, edited the campus newspaper, and tried to beautify the campus. He published little and in 1908 he was fired due to pressures from religious groups who wanted all "immoral faculty" fired. From there he went on to a distinguished academic career at the University of Washington.
Intellectual on the left
Parrington moved to the much friendlier University of Washington in Seattle in 1908. He recalled in 1918, "With every passing year my radicalism draws fresh nourishment from large knowledge of the evils of private capitalism. Hatred of that selfish system is become the chief passion of my life. The change from Oklahoma to Washington marks the shift with me from the older cultural interpretation of life to the later economic."
Founder of American Studies
Parrington, along with Perry Miller, F. O. Matthiessen, and Robert Spiller were the founders of the American Studies movement in the 1920s and 1930s. The elements that these pioneers considered revolutionary were interdisciplinarity, a holistic culture concept, and a focus on American culture.
Main Currents in American Thought
Parrington is best remembered as the author of Main Currents in American Thought, a politics-centered three-volume history of American letters from colonial times, postulating a sharp divide between the elitist Hamiltonian current and its populist Jeffersonian opponents, and making clear Parrington's own identification with the latter.
Parrington defended the doctrine of state sovereignty, and sought to disassociate it from the cause of slavery. He wrote that the association of those two causes had proven "disastrous to American democracy," removing the last brake on the growth of corporate power, because in the gilded age the federal government had shielded capitalists from local and state regulation.
Main Currents won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1928, and was for two decades one of the most influential books for American historians. Reising (1989) shows the book dominated literary and cultural criticism from 1927 through the early 1950s. Crowe (1977) argues that it "was the "Summa Theologica of Progressive history." Progressive history was a set of related assumptions and attitudes, which inspired the first great flowering of professional American scholarship in history. These historians saw economic and geographical forces as primary, and saw ideas as merely instruments. They regarded many dominant concepts and interpretations as masks for deeper realities.
Reinitz (1977) stresses Parrington's heavy use of historical irony, which occurs when the consequences of an action emerge contrary to the original intentions of the actors. Parrington represented the Progressive School of historians which stressed the duality of good versus evil in the American past. Yet, in his final volume of Main Currents he concluded that the Jeffersonian farmer, the Progressives' traditional democratic hero, had joined forces with the greedy business community to produce a destructive form of capitalism which culminated in the 1920s.
Parrington was the second head coach of the University of Oklahoma football team, where he was the first OU faculty member to officially hold the position. He is credited with bringing a Harvard style of play and better organization to the OU football program. During his four-year stretch from 1897 to 1900 Parrington's teams played only twelve games, with 9 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie. Parrington's span as head football coach was the longest of any of Oklahoma's first 5 coaches.
The Parrington Oval at the University of Oklahoma and Parrington Hall at the University of Washington are named for Vernon Louis Parrington.
Books by Parrington
- Vernon Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought (1927), 3-vol online
- Parrington, The Connecticut Wits (1926)
- Parrington, Sinclair Lewis, Our Own Diogenes (1927)
- Hofstadter (1968)
- Hall 1994
- quoted in Levy (1995) p 666
- Verheul (1999)
- Brennan, Elizabeth A.; Elizabeth C. Clarage (1999). Who's Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners. Oryx Press. p. 283. ISBN 1-57356-111-8.
- Crowe, Charles (1966). "The Emergence of Progressive History". Journal of the History of Ideas 27 (1): 109–124. JSTOR 2708311.
- Hall, Lark (1981). "V. L. Parrington's Oklahoma Years, 1897-1908: 'Few High Lights and Much Monotone'". Pacific Northwest Quarterly 72 (1): 20–28. ISSN 0030-8803.
- Hall, H. Lark (1994). V. L. Parrington: Through the Avenue of Art. The standard scholarly biography
- Hofstadter, Richard (1968). The Progressive Historians: Turner, Beard, Parrington.
- Hofstadter, Richard (1941). "Parrington and the Jeffersonian Tradition". Journal of the History of Ideas 2 (4): 391–400. JSTOR 2707018.
- Houghton, Donald E. (1970). "Vernon Louis Parrington's Unacknowledged Debt to Moses Coit Tyler". New England Quarterly 43 (1): 124–130. JSTOR 363700.
- Levy, David W. (1995). "'I Become More Radical With Every Year': The Intellectual Odyssey of Vernon Louis Parrington". Reviews in American History 23 (4): 663–668.
- Reinitz, Richard (1977). "Vernon Louis Parrington as Historical Ironist". Pacific Northwest Quarterly 68 (3): 113–119. ISSN 0030-8803.
- Reising, Russell J. (1989). "Reconstructing Parrington". American Quarterly 41 (1): 155–164. JSTOR 2713202.
- Skotheim, Robert A.; Vanderbilt, Kermit (1962). "Vernon Louis Parrington". Pacific Northwest Quarterly 53 (3): 100–113. ISSN 0030-8803. Summary of his ideas
- Verheul, Jaap (1999). "The Ideological Origins of American Studies". European Contributions to American Studies 40: 91–103. ISSN 1387-9332.
- Edwin Harold Eby Papers. 1838-1974. 0.63 cubic feet plus 1 vertical file and 1 audio tape. At the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. Contains edits made by Eby to volume 3 of Parrington's "Main Current in America Thought" in the 1920s.