A historian who lived the kind of history he wrote, Francis Parkman is a major—and controversial—figure in American historiography. His narrative style, while popular with readers wanting a "good story," has raised many questions with professional historians. Was Parkman writing history or historical fiction? Did he color historical figures with his own heroic self-image? Was his objectivity compromised by his "unbending, conservative, Brahmin" values? These are some of the many issues that Wilbur Jacobs treats in this thought-provoking study.
Jacobs carefully considers the "apprenticeship" of Francis Parkman, first spent in facing the rigors of the Oregon Trail and later in struggling to write his histories despite a mysterious, frequently incapacitating illness. He shows how these events allowed Parkman to create a heroic self-image, which impelled his desire for fame as a historian and influenced his treatment of both the "noble" and the "savage" characters of his histories.
In addition to assessing the influence of Parkman's development and personality on his histories, Jacobs comments on Parkman's relationship to basic social and cultural issues of the nineteenth century. These include the slavery question, Native American issues, expansion of the suffrage to new groups, including women, and anti-Catholicism.