Distinguished Lecturers
Robert G. Parkinson

Robert G. Parkinson

Robert Parkinson is associate professor of history at Binghamton University. He is the author of Thirteen Clocks: How Race United the Colonies and Made the Declaration of Independence (2021) and The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (2016), which won the OAH's James Rawley prize for the best book on US race relations in 2017. His most recent book, The Heart of American Darkness (2024), is a microhistory about how the grisly murder of nine Natives on a tributary of the Ohio River in 1774 exerted a surprisingly powerful influence in the political and rhetorical life of the early American republic. Parkinson earned his PhD at the University of Virginia and has held fellowships at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and the C.V. Starr for the Study for the American Experience.

NEW IN 2024: Heart of American Darkness: Bewilderment and Horror on the Early Frontier (W. W. Norton)

OAH Lectures by Robert G. Parkinson

In this lecture based on his 2024 book, Parkinson presents a startling narrative of the ever-shifting encounters between white colonists and Native Americans. This fundamentally new account of the American frontier shows that it was defined not by hardy pioneers or imperial power, but by sheer mayhem.  We have long been divided over how exceptional the United States is, and that debate has often revolved around the frontier. Parkinson reveals that the colonization of the interior was not a rational process or heroic deed -- nor the act by which American democracy was forged. Rather, it was as bewildering, violent, and haphazard as European colonization of Africa. Bringing a Conradian lens to the central episodes of the early American frontier from the 1730s through the Revolutionary War, he follows the intertwined histories of two prominent families, one colonial and the other Native, who helped determine the fate of the empires battling for control of the Ohio River Valley.

How did the thirteen colonies come together to declare independence together? In this lecture, Parkinson shows that the role race played has been underestimated in the achievement of American independence. Stories about British officials "inciting" slave insurrections and Native hostility were ubiquitous as soon as the Revolutionary War began in 1775. Patriot leaders like Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams seized upon these stories about race and crafted them as a reason why America needed to leave the empire. Race UNITED the states in 1776.

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