Diamond Jubilee:  A Tribute to Harold T. Parker1

June K. Burton
Akron University

    The year 1897 marked Queen Victoria's "Diamond Jubilee," the sixtieth year after her ascension to the throne of Great Britain.  For us, who have been bitten by the French history bug, 1997 marks the sixtieth anniversary of The Cult of Antiquity in the French Revolution by Dr. Harold T. Parker.  Its publication established Parker as a premier scholar of the French Revolution/Napoleonic era.

    When I started to think about this occasion, a 1636 quotation from Ben Jonson came to mind:

good men are the stars,
the planets of the ages wherein they live,
and illustrate the time.
    Queen Victoria was the granddaughter of George III.  Parker's grandfather was Samuel B. Parker, a CIncinnati Ohio-River pilot who saw action during the Civil War.  His grandmother was also a person of "exceptional mental qualities" who guided her son, Samuel Chester Parker (1880-1924).  Harold's father majored in chemistry in college until his senior year when he decided to refocus toward the theory and practice of teaching.  He did graduate work at the University of Cincinnati and received a M.A. in 1903 from Teachers College, Columbia University.  The following year, 1904, he married Harold's mother, Lucile R. Jones, a local woman whom he knew in college.  During his graduate studies, Samuel Chester Parker met and was strongly influenced by two contemporaries:  the world-famous educator and instrumentalist philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) and the lexicographer and educational psychologist Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949).2  Dewey was forty-eight when Harold was born; Thorndike was thirty-three, and Samuel Chester Parker fathered his only child at age twenty-seven.  So we might imagine the three men perhaps, somewhat like Jeremy Bentham and James Mill did regarding the latter's young son, John Stuart Mill, talking about the boy's aptitude and designing his education.

    After teaching at Miami University, in 1909 Samuel Parker was called to the University of Chicago, and was dean of its College of Education from 1911 to 1916.  His books on methods of teaching history incorporated the latest scientific studies in the field of education.  Moreover, as an administrator he seemed like a veritable Napoleon; he was hailed in the Dictionary of American Biography as "the embodiment of systemic procedure.  He organized every detail of the work of his clerical staff and of his associates."3  Concomitantly, for five years--from 1911 to 1915--he was secretary of the National Society for the Study of Education.  His management made the future NEA (National Educational Association) the most influential educational organization in the United States.

    Samuel Chester Parker's teaching likewise set a high standard for his son to emulate, and in this he incorporated the educational precepts of Dewey and the psychology of Thorndike.  Harold also remembers that his  father's hero was Herbert Spencer who in 1860 had written What Knowledge Is of Most Worth?, an essay that opposed an educational system based on Latin and Greek classics and proposed, instead, "useful" subjects.
 In addition to the regular duties one would expect as dean of the College of Education at Chicago, Samuel Parker directed the Laboratory Schools, which had been founded earlier by John Dewey before he had left Chicago for Columbia.  We wonder, when Parker's own little son Harold was enrolled there in kindergarten, was he the same size as Napoleon at five years of age?  Harold attended the Laboratory Schools K-12 from 1912 to 1925.  The progressive school engaged children in challenging projects that built sturdy self-esteem.  For instance, Harold built a plaster of paris model of Richard the Lion-Hearted's castle and reenacted historical events.  Consequently, through these problem-solving exercises, Harold came to believe there is a reachable solution to every problem.

    The children also were taught foreign languages, so Harold started to learn his father's favorite--German.  When Harold was ten years old, the U.S. entered the First World War, and the teaching of German was abandoned in schools all over America; however, the Laboratory Schools did not yield to the wartime hysteria, but continued the teaching of German.  But, as most of the parents withdrew their youngsters, the number of Harold's German classmates dwindled from the original nine to two, one of whom, curiously, was Maurice Mandelbaum, who later at Dartmouth became a distinguished historical methodologist and anti-relativist.  After completing third-year German in high school, Harold next finished three years of French in two years, validated by a fourth-year course in college.  Gradually, Parker's superior strength in French language made his life and career veer towards Paris and the study of French culture.

    Nevertheless, the school, which was in many ways so remarkable, had one deficiency, which was that it led to "emotional impoverishment."  In Parker's words:  "The school was too decent, too bland, too intellectual, too Midwestern pragmatic.  We were not prepared for the darker, compulsive world of the Russian novelist Dostoevski in ourselves and others."4  Consequently, the essay Harold wrote as a high-school senior on "The Napoleonic Period" was a totally unemotional appraisal of Napoleon's relation to the French Revolution.
 Although Parker's father died after a brief illness in 1924, when Harold was sixteen, he continued to influence his son's future.  Because Harold had accepted his father's decision that he was supposed to be a college teacher of the social sciences, he continued his education at the University of Chicago, where a "bubbly, try-anything-once
-to-see-what-it-will-yield atmosphere" then prevailed.  While it was an exciting campus for graduate students in the 1920s, with Nobel prize winners in physics as well as outstanding leaders in social sciences and history, undergraduates were paid unequal attention, so that exceptional students like Harold were left in a state of benign neglect to invent their own methodologies.  Given his freedom, Harold sampled courses in economics, psychology, sociology, and political science, until in his senior year he finally settled on history.  Furthermore, he began to assert his independence:  he took two courses in philosophy--something Herbert Spencer would have frowned upon as being rather useless and recreational.  One of these was taught by the seminal philosopher of American thought, George Herbert Meade, whose lectures opened the world of philosophy to him.  These exposures prepared him for graduate study.

    Although he attended Chicago K-Ph.D., Parker spent the second year of his graduate work (1929-1930) at Cornell.  Louis Gottschalk (1899-1975), Parker's youthful advisor who taught at Chicago from 1927 to 1974, urged him to spend a year with his mentor -- the charismatic stylist Carl Lotus Becker (1873-1945), who became most famous among Europeanists for writing The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (Yale University Press, 1932).  After preparing to write a thesis on the cahiers de doléances of the French Revolution, another accident interfered with his plans:  a New Yorker, Miss Beatrice Hyslop, claimed the topic.  Consequently, Parker switched his topic to one that Becker had suggested in 1924:  a study of the cult of antiquity during the French Revolution.

    In the customary absence of "red tape" at Cornell, Parker simply arrived at the office door of Professor Becker and asked to be admitted to his seminar.  Becker himself had been educated by the "New Historians," Frederick Jackson Turner and Charles Homer Haskins at the University of Wisconsin, and by James Harvey Robinson at Columbia.  Parker observed that in those years Becker was concerned with the subtle interplay of ideas, events, and personal temperament in the ongoing narrative movement of history.  Moreover, he was more interested in the state of mind that had conditioned events than the actual events themselves.  Becker was intuitively blessed with the gift of psychological insight into the moods and ideas of individuals, groups, or an epoch.  Before the advent of young Parker, Becker had thus far produced his doctoral dissertation, "The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York:  1760-1776" (1909); Eve of the Revolution (1918), a book which conveyed a sense of the Americans' feelings about their revolutionary behavior; and The Declaration of Independence (1922), which dealt with the interplay of ideas, formal philosophy, and mass psychology.  In those years Becker was combatively relativistic while insisting that history ought to be useful, but not necessarily narrowly practical.  By another accident of fate, Parker happened to arrive at Cornell when, following his normal rotation of courses, Becker offered the senior/graduate-level course on Napoleon.  Nevertheless, Parker resisted Becker's charm as a major professor, perhaps lest he become a Becker clone, and returned to Chicago to finish his Ph.D. with Gottschalk.5  But a chance remark by Becker--that the problem for the New Historians was to make a synthesis of social forces and then to make it move--was to echo in Parker's mind for the rest of his life.

    Gottschalk, who treated Parker very kindly, had completed his Marat biography, Jean-Paul Marat:  A Study in Radicalism  (1927), and was just starting to work on the Lafayette biography, which would take over forty years intermittently in the midst of other projects and run to six volumes, yet remain uncompleted.  As noted earlier, Parker had been allowed freedom to experiment with new approaches in his undergraduate papers; and, in Gottschalk's seminar (1928) he continued to explore methodology.  After returning from Cornell, he invented, or so he thought, a new systematic method of applying intellectual history to the cult of antiquity of the French Revolutionaries in order to see the role that antiquity had played in the formation of political ideas.  His "new" method really was "prosopography," already in use by literary historians.  To do this, Parker recalls that he first listed one hundred prominent participants in the French Revolution across the spectrum of opinion and tried to trace their lives and their attitudes to antiquity from birth to the guillotine or exile.  This process yielded enough data on about thirty-eight of them to generalize inductively about their attitudes in youth and then year by year and even month by month during the Revolution.  Eventually, Parker's enthusiasm for pagan antiquity evolved into a dissertation (completed in 1934) and a first book in 1937, The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries.  Dissatisfied with Bernard Fay's loose way of documenting intellectual history, Parker had resolved to do better; and, he shaped Becker's original notion in a more limited way, allowing his sources to dictate use of a more scientific methodology than had been previously used in writing intellectual history, a methodology that was praised in principle by Georges Lefebvre's three-page review in the journal Les Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française.6

    It is interesting, too, as Lefebvre noted, that The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries ended abruptly without any conclusion by the author because he just wanted to present facts and let readers draw their own conclusions -- something that a historicist who shared the relativism of Becker and the New Historians might do.  Lefebvre also reviewed the book for the Revue Historique,7 another prestigious French journal.  Undoubtedly, The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries was a seminal intellectual history, which is proven by the fact that it was reprinted in 1965 and is still frequently cited.  According to the Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities Indexes, both editions have been used during the last thirty years by scholars in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, publishing in the fields of philology, classics, English, art history and French history.

    But even with a seminal book and a Ph.D. in 1934 Parker could not find a college teaching job; the Great Depression delayed his entry into academia for five years.  So first, Parker spent what he calls "the only two miserable years of my life" teaching high school.  Because he did not know how to keep order the boys pelted him with erasers when he turned his back to write on the blackboard.  But this "reality check" gave him incentive to save enough money to quit and go to the Widener Library at Harvard and the Library of Congress from 1936 to 1939 to work on his second book, Three Napoleonic  Battles.  Finally, in 1939, the Midwestern democrat was accidentally placed by Chicago in a teaching position in the South, at Duke University, where he remained until his forced retirement at age seventy in 1977.  Had his last name been at the beginning of the alphabet, he would have been sent to Brooklyn College.

    The only interruption of his tenure at Duke was a catastrophic one--the Second World War.  As Parker vividly recalled when he spoke at a Department of the Army conference on Writing History in the Pacific Theater during World War II:  "Coincidentally, on the morning in August 1942 when my draft number appeared in the Durham Morning Herald, I penned the last sentence of my book entitled Three Napoleonic Battles, later published in 1944."8  In the book, which was an unconventional military history, he tried to write "total history" including "history from below" and the horrors of the battlefield.  But the newness of his method went largely unnoticed against the backdrop of the war.  In the Journal of Modern History, Robert R. Palmer reviewed the text favorably regarding its treatment of the three battles, although he thought the author could have done more in developing the treatment of Napoleon's personality.  But Palmer lit into Parker's use of copious notes:

The book raises a question we academic historians should consider.  Its 209 pages of text carry 743 footnotes. . . .  In connection with the battle of Friedland, having described the urgency of the circumstances and told us that Grouchy commanded the cavalry, the author cautions us in several footnotes that his statements that Grouchy "hurried," "hastened," and "galloped" are only inferences.  If Mr. Parker, after steeping himself in the subject, thinks that Grouchy hurried, I for one am willing to believe him. . . .
Palmer continued:
Mr. Parker, in his Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries. . . established his professional reliability and won the right to speak with an authority of his own. . . .  In addition . . . proliferation of footnotes undermines the economic foundation of historical writing, adding to the cost of publication, on the one hand, while restricting sales, on the other.9

    Palmer's review reflected the wartime austerity, but Parker's interest in Napoleon's personality and his love of footnoting became characteristic.  Only in the 1960s would military historians catch up with Parker's approach, although they often tend to glorify the horror of warfare even today.  When Three Napoleonic Battles was reprinted in 1983, it was found to be more stylish by Donald Horward, who declared in the journal Military Affairs10 that he was using the volume as a textbook in his Napoleon course.  In the forty-year interval between 1944 and 1984, Three Napoleonic Battles had become a classic, footnotes and all.

    Once inducted into the Army Air Force and initially trained as a radio-man, from 1943 to 1945 Parker served on an Intelligence team that wrote the monthly histories of the 67th Troop Carrier Squadron as it moved from New Guinea to Leyte and Clark Field in the Philippines, and on to Okinawa and Iwo Jima.  As pilots returned from their daily combat missions, they handed over their intelligence folders to Staff Sergeant Parker, a modern-day Thucydides who enjoyed being able to interview participants about details and discrepancies -- something he had been unable to do with Napoleon and Wellington and their officers and men.

    Although he was drafted at age thirty-five, and was older than the average G.I., Parker fit in with the unit and evidently worked quite willingly.  Two photographs exist, taken in Hollandria, New Guinea, which have captions indicating the nicknames the men had for each other.  Harold's suggest that they didn't quite know what to make of him:  in one picture he is labeled "Staff Sergeant 'Eager Beaver' Parker," whereas in the other, he is "Staff Sergeant 'The Brain' Parker."  A couple of months ago, after Harold sent me the photos, I told him on the phone that I thought "Eager Beaver" really suited him; but he confided that he liked "The Brain," chuckling.

    After three-and-a-half years in the Army Air Force, Parker returned to Duke University, where the department of sixteen included Charles S. Sydnor and William T. Laprade, whom Parker later called the wisest man he ever knew.  But while he was rehired, Parker returned to a different teaching slot because during the war Duke had hired someone else to teach the French Revolution/Napoleonic era.  As a result, for the duration of his career, Parker's teaching and research fields did not reinforce each other, and it took several more years to prefect the new lectures he had to write for his advanced classes on nineteenth-century Europe.  In fact, for about a decade he was banished from the freshman survey because the chairman thought that his initial efforts to "teach the textbook" (which is what the department wanted but was diametrically opposed to what was done at Chicago in that age of great lecturers) were deemed unsatisfactory.  The plight of such a shy but earnest man must have been heart-rending, I think, but outwardly he did not give in to self-pity; instead, he determined to learn their method, seeking help from more experienced colleagues.  Meanwhile, he took his frustration out on the golf course, playing a fast nine holes when the course was uncrowded.  In time, however, the ill-fated professor proved that "every dog has his day":  Parker won Duke's 1966 and 1971 Distinguished Teaching Awards, and in 1973 he also won the Annual Distinguished Teacher's Award of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church.

    I was first introduced to Harold Parker by Lee Kennett in November 1970, at the last SHA held at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  Kennett wanted me to meet Dr. Parker because he had started to organize a "Napoleonic Studies Conference" to be held in January 1971 at the University of Georgia Continuing Education Center.  Kennett put me on the first session with Raymond Maras and asked Dr. Parker to preside [and the late Beatrice Hyslop to comment].  As a graduate student being introduced to such a great historian, I was star-struck, because Kennett had made me read The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries  [I  see heads nodding all over the rooms, indicating to me that most of you read it, too.], and I had found it positively thrilling.  He invited me to the Duke smoker and struck me as being liberated from prejudice against women who are co-workers -- such men were few in the late '60s and early '70s when history was still considered "a man's field."  He reassured me, "You'll have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but that's alright, you'll be able to do it."  (Today, that seems like an autobiographical statement.)  A second thing I remember him saying, which struck me as curious coming from a seemingly confirmed bachelor, was:  "Human beings were meant to live in pairs, like the animals in Noah's ark."

    When he later offered to read the manuscript for Napoleon and Clio, I was tremendously flattered as well as grateful because by then no one in our field was more highly esteemed.  People planning sessions asked him to preside or comment because his mere presence assured them of a larger audience.  David Vess, a Director of the Consortium for many years, remarked to me on the way to a Parker session that "Harold draws a crowd because he always has something to say."

    By then Parker himself had learned to laugh about the legendary stories that circulated concerning his Spartan behavior.  For example, after serving as commentator in a Friday session on the French Revolution at the SHA convention of November 1941, Parker boarded the coaches of the night Atlanta-New York train, disembarked at Greensboro, North Carolina at 2:00 A.M., slept on a bench in the deserted railway depot, caught the New York-Raleigh/Durham train and arrived in time to meet his 8 o'clock Saturday morning section of the survey course -- all because he thought it was important for the class to remain on schedule.

    In October 1954, when Hurricane Hazel hit Durham, Parker, unaware that classes had been canceled, drove two miles through the height of the storm, with trees falling to the right and left, to meet at 4 o'clock his undergraduate research seminar.  When students telephoned to inquire if class was meeting, he replied, "Of course."

    Finally, upon his retirement in 1977, Newsweek magazine featured Parker as one of the award-winning college teachers of America who was being to lost to academia that spring.  A reporter sent to Durham picked up the story that most delighted the Duke History Department staff about Harold's summer research trip to Paris.  Evidently, from out of the distant past the spirit of his father's friend, the lexicographer Thorndike, had spoken to Parker, making him wonder what kind of vocabulary Napoleon must have had if he always spoke in one-syllable words.  So Harold spent his evenings in Paris reading Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and underlining all the one-syllable words.  Why?, people asked.  "Because there was nothing to do in Paris at night -- except read."

    After retiring from Duke twenty years ago (1977), Parker remained professionally active and doubled his list of publications.  He taught first at the university of Alabama in Huntsville where two of his former students--Carolyn White and John White, who was one of the original directors of the Consortium--were faculty members and administrators.  There, at the right time in his life, he saw someone he liked -- Dr. Louise Salley.  He told me in December that it was a mistake to teach after retirement because he wasn't fully engaged in the institutions as he had been at Duke; but then if he hadn't, he would never have met Louise.  From Huntsville, Dr. Parker went on to teach at Sewanee and, finally, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Publication of the first volume of his study of the French Bureau of Commerce and Industry in 1781 (a useful subject for a student of the Napoleonic administration) and the International Handbook of Historical Studies, which he co-edited with Georg Iggers, were happy events of 1979.  After their wedding in 1980, Drs. Harold and Louise Parker together edited five volumes of the Proceedings of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe.  The completion of The Historical Dictionary of Napoleonic France in 1983, a collaborative venture with General Editor Owen Connelly and Associate Editors Peter Becker and Yours Truly, familiarized Parker with the latest Napoleonic research.  Another monograph, An Administrative Bureau during the Old Regime:  The Bureau of Commerce and Its Relations to French Industry from May 1781 to November 1783, followed in 1993.

Only last month did Parker's latest book appear:  The History of St. Philip's Episcopal Church, 1878-1994.  When I first saw it in manuscript form, I expected it to be of limited value, focusing as it does on a single congregation in Durham, North Carolina, and produced by the Parish Historian and a committee of its communicants.  However, as I was drawn into the well-told study I became fascinated by the full range of historical methodologies Parker utilized so creatively.  Finally, as I approached the end, I discovered that this time, sixty years later, he did not end the book without wrestling with the meaning of events; indeed, he wrote an entire passage on page 256 entitled, "Reflections on Meaning," in which he tells laymen what he thinks about the substance of the book -- now that he stepped out from the shadow of Carl Becker's relativism:

The professional historian is equipped by training to discover what actually happened, and he is honor-bound by his code to present it as honestly as he can.  But when he comes to questions of meaning he is no better off than anyone else.  He is restricted, furthermore, not only by the limitations of his personal resources but by his localization in time and space.  The meaning of an event depends not only on what came before but also on what came after, and what came after is constantly changing.  And in space, where is the historian:  an insider?  an outsider?  or empathetically both, within and without?
Then he goes into the positive achievements of the church, which he counterbalances with a paragraph on the "gritty underside of the story," taking them to task for quarreling, factiousness, and falling short of their professed beliefs.  At this point, he resumes with the history lesson:
    So, what is the meaning of the history of St. Philip's?  Let us continue to think about it, in a further adventure of inquiry, reflection, and prayer for illumination.  The question is important; Meaning is related to a sense of identity -- identity (who we are) is related to action -- action reinforces a sense of identity and of meaning.   Meaning, identity, and action are thus mutually reinforcible.  Memory, too, should play a role.  We are a congregation that in the past has taken risks and not taken risks, stepped forth in faith and not stepped forth in faith, listened to its prophets and let them down, struggled, fought, repented, survived, and ultimately moved forward in faith, a true pilgrim's progress toward a growing sense of mission.
    In all this did we not parallel the history of the Israelites of the Old Testament?

    After sixty years, Pilgrim Harold finally "got it."  Somewhere between his vocally agnostic days when on the Duke campus he eagerly debated theologians ranging from Reinhold Neibuhr to Elton Trueblood, he had a revelation that definitively settled his identity crisis.

    But some old habits are had to break:  the 285 pages of text in The History of St. Philip's Church are documented by 17 appendixes and, yes, 31 pages of notes.  Scouring the text and the fine print in the notes, I learned some surprising things about Harold as "faith in action."  Time permits mention of only one.  In 1979, Parker chaired the St. Philip's "Soup Kitchen Committee."  His successful leadership of this unglamourous, 1930s-sounding committee is reminiscent of what Samuel Chester Parker did for the future of the NEA.  Under Harold Parker, and more important under his successors, the noontime soup kitchen for a few derelict, homeless men became a model for other churches and organizations in the U.S. and abroad.  By 1983 the soup kitchen had evolved into a permanent community institution housed in a new building adjacent to the church, which fed the increasing numbers of homeless families and destitute individuals in the Durham area.  It was designated a "Jubilee Ministries Center" -- one of only nine such Episcopal Outreach Ministries in the U.S.A."11  Perhaps I should resist the temptation to point out the irony I see in a bookish professor who stored file folders of research notes in the oven and kept his golf balls fresh in the egg holder in the refrigerator door at his Demerius Street house, being called by God to initiate a food service system.  But the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools had taught its graduates that every has a solution, and that it is within reach!

    In closing, I am reminded of what Lucretius the Roman observed--that in "our lives we borrow from each other . . . and men, like runners, pass along the torch of life."

    On behalf of all your students and colleagues, Harold Talbot Parker, thank you for your exemplary life of service to our profession and to our world.  "Eager Beaver," you have seized the torch of life, held it high, and illuminated our times.


    1"Luncheon Address," Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, Selected Papers, 1997, 13-22.  Reprinted by permission.  This address is intended to supplement my interview article entitled, "Toward Understanding Napoleon," Napoleon, no. 7 (February, 1997):  26-31 and 34-35, which was distributed to all participants at the registration desk.  A previous, unpublished paper on Harold Parker was delivered at the Southern Historical Association meeting in New Orleans, 11 November 1995.  Both papers are based largely on the author's telephone conversations and correspondence with Dr. Parker since 1993, when he was warded the Enno Kraehe Service Award by the European History Section of the SHA.  He also provided copies of some of his private papers that were donated to the Duke University Archives.  Since being delivered as a surprise, Dr. Parker has reviewed the text and minor corrections have been made.

    2Preceding paragraph based on "Parker, Samuel Chester," Dictionary of American Biography, 22 vols. (New York, 1934), XIV, 238.  This article incorrectly attributes his death to a fever contracted at Hudson Bay, followed by a long illness.  According to his son, he was ill only for about a week with a misdiagnosed case of appendicitis that proved fatal after inappropriate attention.


    4"Education," unpublished address delivered to Honors Convocation, West Georgia College, 17 May 1989, 2-3.

    5Parker did not take an M.A., for at the time it was not the custom at Chicago for Ph.D. students to do so.

    6Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 10 (1938): 465-68.

    7Revue Historique 187 (1939): 94-95.
    8Washington, D.C., 15 June 1995, 1.

    9Journal of Modern History 16 (1944): 314-15.

    10Military Affairs 48, no. 2 (April, 1984): 101.

    11Work cited, 262-64 and 268.

This Page is Maintained by Robert W. Brown

Last update: 3.III.2003

Return to the Harold T. Parker Homepage