By Christine Murray
For Robert Parkinson, history has always been a passion, but early American history is where his heart is.
“The founding (of America) has always been especially interesting for me, because it feels like my duty as a citizen,” Parkinson said. “It’s really important to get that history right, so that we have the potential to not be deceived about who we are as a country and so we know our place in the world.”
Parkinson received his doctorate at the University of Virginia and went on to teach at Shepherd University in West Virginia for nine years before coming to Harpur College in fall 2014 as an assistant professor.
Parkinson is the only early American history scholar in the History Department at Harpur College. “There is an exceptional early American history doctoral program here, and there are a lot of students coming [to Harpur] for that,” he said. “I’ve come to continue the program. Opportunities like this don’t come around often, so it’s been good for me.”
So far, Parkinson has found his undergraduate and graduate students attentive and thoughtful.
“It’s been a good first few months,” Parkinson said.
Parkinson has published several articles and his first book, “The Common Cause: The Foundation of Race and Nation in the American Revolution,” is coming in the new year.
“It’s very exciting,” Parkinson said. “This idea started as my dissertation for my doctorate, which I introduced the weekend my first daughter was born, so it’s grown up with her. I’ve been working on it for 13 years, so I’m ready to see it published.”
While Parkinson always wanted to study history, he did not discover his desire to be in academics until working on his senior thesis about the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 18th century at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“I fell into the academic side of things after I realized how much I enjoyed all of the research I was doing,” Parkinson said. “I was doing a lot of local research in county courts in Pennsylvania and thought ‘I would really like to keep on doing this.’”
Once Parkinson decided to go into academics, he knew he wanted to teach at the college level.
“I like trying to get students to look at primary sources, instead of just relying on what some historian is saying about the topic,” Parkinson said. “Coming to a place like Binghamton you can do more interesting research because of the greater resources offered, even at an undergraduate level. That was a big attraction for me.”
Parkinson stresses the importance of finding his own interpretive path into the past as a history scholar and hopes that he creates the same desire among his students.
“The way I think about it is: You can either listen to the music or make your own music,” Parkinson said. “I don’t want to just look at what other (historians) have said. I think it’s important to actually put your own type of spin on it. I’m making my own music.”
Last Updated: 3/1/17