OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Robert G. Parkinson

Portrait of 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. He 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. His current book project, "The Heart of American Darkness" (Liveright/Norton), 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.



Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

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.
For a century, Frederick Jackson Turner's vision of the frontier has dominated scholarship, either for or against. There is another narrator of empire from the 1890s whom we have not considered as applicable as a way of "seeing" the frontier in American history: Joseph Conrad. "The Heart of American Darkness" uses Conrad's classic (and controversial) novella as a guide to "seeing" anew the absurdity, bewilderment, chaos, and brutality of the American frontier, specifically the Ohio Valley of the 1750s-70s.