John Parker

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


In 1960 the International Congress on the History of Exploration was held in Lisbon to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.  John (Jack) Parker, Thomas Goldstein, and Vsevolod (Steve) Slessarev met at that congress where they discussed forming an organization which would encourage the study of the history of geographical discoveries.  In their minds they envisioned a group that would welcome to its membership book and map dealers and collectors, curators and librarians, faculty in geography, history, and related fields, graduate students, and independent scholars.  The Society for the History of Discoveries resulted from this conversation. The story of its founding has been recounted by John Parker in his memorial to Thomas (Thom) Goldstein in Volume 33 of Terrae Incognitae.  The principles set by the founders have been followed from the beginning to the present, a period of more than forty years.  As Jack put it so well, “By listening to all sides of issues, we become better scholars.”

John Parker carried the burden of the office of Secretary-Treasurer of the Society for the History of Discoveries for the first eleven years of its existence.  He recorded the memberships, kept and balanced the bank accounts, edited and distributed the newsletter, and in general served as the glue to keep the SHD together.  Although the organization was much smaller in those early years, it was also more fragile, and could have been damaged by inactivity or neglect. Jack promoted the society and the participation of members in it.  The SHD Newsletter provided a welcome and essential means of communication for members who eagerly awaited the reports of activities of other members, just as they do today. The high standard John Parker set as Secretary-Treasurer, now Executive Secretary, has been continued throughout the life of the Society.

Professor Parker was born in 1923, and was raised in Nekoma, North Dakota.  He graduated from Jamestown College in 1947. In 1949, he completed his studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with an MA in history.  From 1949 to 1952 he was instructor of history at the University of North Dakota. Continuing his studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he received the MA in Library Science (1953) and his Ph.D. (1960).  While a student there he worked at the William L. Clements Library. In 1953, he and his wife, Patricia, moved to Minneapolis where he began his career as the first curator of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, a position he held until his retirement in 1991.  The Parkers have two daughters, Jackie Cherryhomes and Sarah Parker. Through his teaching in the History Department and the School of Library Science at the University of Minnesota, John Parker brought attention to books written by geographers and travelers. For many years he taught the Expansion of Europe seminar that features books, maps, and manuscripts in the James Ford Bell Library.  In the Library School he taught a Descriptive Bibliography course on rare books, in which students used the books of European travelers who went beyond the borders of Europe to Africa, America, Asia, and the arctic regions during the period from 1400 to 1800. He served on numerous graduate committees for students in history, library science, and related fields.

Professor Parker is an outstanding writer and editor.  The revision of his Ph.D. dissertation was published as Books to Build an Empire (Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1965).  As a memorial to James Ford Bell, he edited the substantial book Merchants & Scholars: Essays in the History of Exploration and Trade (University of Minnesota Press, 1965).  He wrote a book for young readers titled Discovery: Developing Views of the Earth from Ancient Times to the Voyages of Captain Cook (New York: Scribner, 1972).  His magisterial study of Carver’s manuscript and printed accounts of travels in North America is titled The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents, 1776-1770, and was published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1976.  As Curator of the James Ford Bell Library, he established a beautifully designed and carefully researched series of books and pamphlets based on rare materials in the library.  One of the recent volumes in this series is Sir Walter Raleigh’s Speech from the Scaffold, which he translated and edited with Carol A. Johnson (Minneapolis: Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, 1995).

John Parker served as President of the Society for the History of Discoveries in 1980-1981.  He presented three papers at meetings, and has three publications, plus many book reviews, in Terrae Incognitae.  His articles are: “Original Sources and Weighty Authorities: Some Thoughts on Revisionism and the Historiography of Discovery,” (13, 1981, 31-34); “The Columbus Landfall Problem: A Historical Perspective,” (15, 1983, 1-28); “Willard Glazier and the Mississippi Headwaters Controversy,” (7, 1975, 53-63).  He is currently a member of the Council of the Society and serves on the editorial board of Terrae Incognitae.

For his pioneering work as Curator of the James Ford Bell Library, his outstanding career of scholarship, and his many contributions to the Society for the History of Discoveries, it is an honor to add to his list of titles: colleague, friend, founder, and now a new one: FSHD – Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Forty-third Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico
October 26, 2002

Prepared by Carol Urness


Contact Information



General Information

Or Send A Message