Herbert Eugene Bolton as a Writer
of Local History
THE NAME OF HERBERT EUGENE BOLTON HAS LONG BEEN SYNONYMOUS
with the indivisibility of American history. To describe-some
might say accuse-the author of The Colonization of North America,
Spanish Borderlands, and "The Epic of Greater America" as being a
local historian may seem contradictory. Yet Bolton's initial historical
contributions were in the field of Texas history, and his later works
of synthesis obscured but did not end his interest in the local histories
of many areas.
In Bolton's broadest works local history played a basic part. His
writings indicate that he approached his synthetic positions by way of
the study of local history. The "Bolton thesis" of hemispheric unity
came after the period of monographic study, not before." The "Spanish
borderlands" never was a theoretical grouping for organization's sake,
but began as a definition for an area with a set of unifying historical,
cultural, and linguistic characteristics. As described by one of his
students, Bolton was "less of a theorist and more of a searcher for the
factual evidence. Consequently, when he did reach a generalization,
even one hemispheric in its extent, it was apt to be securely based on
knowledge and understanding.""
The local interest that is background to Bolton's mature history
*Martha Voght is a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
'For a Bolton bibliography see John Francis Bannon (ed.), Bolton and the Spanish
Borderlands (Norman, 1964), 333-341. A survey of this bibliography reveals the large
number of contributions Bolton made to regional, state, and local history. It is interesting
that he is categorized as a sectional historian in Michael Kraus, A History of American
History (New York, 1937), 515-516.
2The Turner thesis of the American frontier as well as those of Henri Pirenne and
Max Weber in European history all at least in part preceded detailed study and were
later severely challenged by researchers in the field. The different reaction to the Bolton
thesis may be accounted for by the fact that his grand idea was approached by following
the facts, not preceding them.
'John W. Caughey, "Herbert Eugene Bolton," Pacific Historical Review, XXII (May,
1953), 111-112. George Hammond, also a Bolton student, explained that Bolton discov-
ered the interrelations of American history "through his own study of a key region of
cultural exchange and international flux, now . . known by the name he gave it: the
Spanish Borderlands." George Hammond, "Herbert Eugene Bolton, 1870-1953," Hispanic
American Historical Review, XXXIII (February, 1953), 186.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117146/. Accessed March 8, 2014.