J. Franklin Jameson

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John Franklin Jameson (1859-1937) was an American historian, author, and journal editor who played a major role in creating and defining the professional roles of American historians in the early 20th century. A Yankee, he was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of John Jameson, a schoolteacher, lawyer, and postmaster, and Mariette Thompson. He graduate Amherst College in 1879 as class valedictorian, studying with John W. Burgess and history professor Anson W. Morse. More influential was Herbert Baxter Adams, head of the department of history and political science at the Johns Hopkins University, where Jameson received the first doctorate in history in 1882. He became an instructor; his dissertation "The Origin and Development of the Municipal Government of New York City," was published in article form in 1882. He moved to Brown University as professor in 1888.


Jameson was a social historian, an expert in historiography, and above all an intellectual entrepreneur. His base was the American Historical Association, which he helped found in 1884. He chaired its Historical Manuscripts Commission in 1895 and became the first managing editor of the American Historical Review (AHR), 1895-1901, 1905-1928, serving as the gatekeeper and information central for academic historiography. He was the first professional historian to become the AHA president (1907). After an interlude at the University of Chicago he went to Washington in 1905 as director of the Department of Historical Research of the heavily endowed Carnegie Institution of Washington. It was controlled by scientists who never fully supported Jameson. He began numerous annual publications and, with Waldo Leland started lobbying Congress to create a National Archives, which was first funded in 1926. Trouble arose in the AHA as younger men protested his authoritarianism. In 1913-15 the insurgents accused Jameson and the inner circle (including Frederick Jackson Turner) of being undemocratic; the insurgents were voted down at the 1915 annual meeting, but gained some new, more democratic rules.

During World War I Jameson edited historical material for soldiers in their training camps, and he published articles in the AHR that supported the Allies. At Carnegie he supervised a series of documentary publications, such as guides to archival resources around the world, documentary editions of the letters of members of the Continental Congress, documents on the slave trade and slave law, and the papers of Andrew Jackson, as well as an atlas of American history. In 1926 he finally published an influential short book in the works for three decades, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement. After losing his position at Carnegie in 1928 he became head of the Division of Manuscripts at the Library of Congress, where he made some notable acquisitions of major collections.

The American Historical Associated elected him president in 1906, and honors his memory with the annual The J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship in American History and the Jameson Prize, awarded every five years since 1980 for outstanding achievement in the editing of historical sources.


Primary Sources

  • An Historian's World: Selections from the Correspondence of John Franklin Jameson, ed. Elizabeth Donnan and Leo F. Stock (1956)
  • Jameson, J. Franklin. The History of Historical Writing in America (1891)
  • Jameson, J. Franklin, ed. The papers of John C. Calhoun, Annual Report of the American Historical Association (1899).
  • Jameson, J. Franklin. The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement. (1926)
  • Jameson, J. Franklin. "The American Acta Sanctorum," American Historical Review, (1908) Volume 13, Issue 2, pp. 286–302, presidential address to American Historical Association. online edition
  • Jameson, J. Franklin, ed. Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents (1923)

Secondary Sources

  • Fisher, Ruth Anna, and William Lloyd Fox. J. Franklin Jameson: A Tribute (1965)
  • Gondos, Jr., Victor, and James B. Rhoads. J. Franklin Jameson and the Birth of the National Archives, 1906-1926 (1981)
  • Rothberg, Morey. "Jameson, John Franklin"; American National Biography Online (2000)online version
  • Rothberg, Morey, and Jacqueline Goggin, eds., John Franklin Jameson and the Development of Humanistic Scholarship in America (3 vols., 1993-2001)