Ephraim Emerton

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Ephraim Emerton (February 18, 1851 – March 3, 1935) was an American educator, author, translator, and historian prominent in his field of European medieval history.

Early life and education[edit]

Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ephraim Emerton was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to James and Martha West Emerton.[1] His elder brother was James Henry Emerton (1847–1930), naturalist and arachnologist.[2]

At the age of twenty, Emerton graduated from Harvard College. He continued his postgraduate education in Germany and received his doctorate from the University of Leipzig in 1876.[3] Returning to Massachusetts the following year, he married Sybil M. Clark of Cambridge and accepted a teaching position at Harvard.[3]

Academic career[edit]

Emerton served at first as an instructor in both History and German language.[3] He eventually became Harvard's foremost professor of Ecclesiastical History, and served on the faculty for forty-two years (1876–1918).[1] A devout Unitarian, he taught at the Harvard Divinity School and most of his writings deal with religious figures and issues. In 1882, he was appointed to a Harvard chair as Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History,[4] the first such professorship bestowed by the Winn financial endowment.[5]

In 1884, Emerton became one of the founders of the oldest and largest historians' society in the United States, the American Historical Association.[3] Throughout his life he was active in numerous academic organizations including the New England History Teachers' Association, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Essex Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of which he was a Fellow.[4]

Emerton retired from teaching on September 1, 1918 and he was granted the title of professor emeritus.[4] In his retirement he continued his historical research and translation work.[1] He remained active with academic groups and, in 1921, he accepted the position of president of the Cambridge Historical Society.[3] He died at his home in Cambridge on March 3, 1935 at the age of eighty-four.[1]


The Dutch theologian Erasmus (1466–1536) was the inspiration for Emerton's Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, first published as one section of a multi-author compilation called Heroes of the Reformation. Published as a standalone book in 1899, it is regarded by scholars as his greatest historical work.[1]

Emerton frequently contributed to larger works, writing articles for books, journals, and even the New York Evening Post. He was an authoritative contributor to the New International Encyclopedia (1914), and provided the full entries for Erasmus and the papacy.[6]

Emerton also authored several widely read textbooks for high school and college students, including Mediaeval Europe, 814–1300 and An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages (375-814), which were highly acclaimed by his contemporaries.[1] Professor Emerton's texts were standard reading within the American educational system for decades after their publication.[7]

A facility for languages never left Emerton, and the translation of medieval German and Latin texts to contemporary English language was his special occupation. One of his most enduring efforts is a translation of the letters of Saint Boniface, the last work published before his death.[1]

Emerton's body of work includes:


Pamphlets, booklets, articles[edit]

  • "The Calvin celebration : Four hundredth anniversary of his birth". The Evening Post. New York Evening Post Co. (July 10). 1909. OCLC 171293674. 
  • "Fra Salimbene and the Franciscan Ideal". Harvard Theological Review. 8 (04): 480–503. 1915. doi:10.1017/s0017816000009196. JSTOR 1507265. 
  • Diesterweg, Friedrich Adolph Wilhelm. "The Historical Seminary in American Teaching". Methods of Teaching History. Boston: Ginn, Heath, & Co. pp. 11–200. 


  • Papers of Ephraim Emerton, 1891–1930, a collection of notes and lectures including a sound recording, is in the permanent collection of the Harvard University Library (OCLC 77069261).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Ephraim Emerton, Historian, is Dead: Harvard Professor Emeritus Was an Authority on Middle Ages and Reformation". New York Times. New York. March 4, 1935. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  2. ^ "J.H. Emerton Dies; Noted Naturalist; Author and Entomologist Passes Away in Boston at the Age of 83". New York Times. New York. December 7, 1930. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Ephraim Emerton (1851–1935)". Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School. 2000. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  4. ^ a b c "Ephraim Emerton Resigned". The Harvard Crimson (20 May). 1918. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  5. ^ Quinquennial catalogue of the officers and graduates of Harvard university, 1636–1915. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1915. p. 27. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  6. ^ New International Encyclopedia (II ed.). Dodd, Mead & Co. 1914. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  7. ^ Paetow, L.J. (1918). "Reviews of Books: The Beginnings of Modern Europe (1250–1450) by Ephraim Emerton". The American Historical Review. American Historical Association. 23 (04): 842–844. doi:10.2307/1836341. JSTOR 1836341. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth Century America, by Elizabeth A. Clark. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-8122-4319-2

External links[edit]

Academic offices
New creation Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History
Succeeded by
Kirsopp Lake