Fiske, John

Fiske, John,

1842–1901, American philosopher and historian, b. Hartford, Conn. Born Edmund Fisk Green, he changed his name in 1855 to John Fisk, adding the final e in 1860. He opened a law practice in Boston but soon turned to writing. A wide reader, he had been an enthusiastic follower of Herbert Spencer while in college, and the first part of his life was given mainly to popularizing Spencerian evolution. He tried to reconcile orthodox religious beliefs with science, both on the lecture platform and in such books as Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (1874, repr. 1969), Darwinism and Other Essays (1879, repr. 1913), Excursions of an Evolutionist (1884), The Idea of God as Affected by Modern Knowledge (1886), and Through Nature to God (1899). Early in his career Fiske also achieved popularity as a lecturer on history and in his later life was occupied mostly with that field. His historical writings include The Critical Period of American History, 1783–1789 (1888), The Beginnings of New England (1889), The American Revolution (1891), The Discovery of America (1892), Old Virginia and Her Neighbors (1897), Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America (1899), The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War (1900), and New France and New England (1902). These books were popular accounts based largely on secondary authorities and noted for an easy, lucid, and dramatic style.

Bibliography

See The Letters of John Fiske (ed. by his daughter, Ethel F. Fisk, 1940).

Fiske, John

 

Born Mar. 30, 1842, in Hartford, Conn.; died July 4, 1901, in Gloucester, Mass. American historian and philosopher.

Fiske was significantly influenced by H. Spencer. In his historical studies he made use of a comparative method to examine political institutions, ignoring the socioeconomic conditions that gave rise to them and attributing the similar traits of various political systems over the course of history to racial community. Fiske preached the racial superiority of the Aryans and the inevitability of the spread of Anglo-Saxon political institutions throughout the world. He traced the development of the US bourgeois political system to the growth of Teutonic ideas and to the growth of the federal and local governments. In his works devoted to the colonial period in American history and to the American Revolution, Fiske attributed the cause of the war to the political shortsightedness of the British government.

WORKS

The Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, vols. 1–4. Boston, 1903.
The Beginnings of New England. Boston–New York, 1930.
American Political Ideas Viewed From the Standpoint of Universal History. Boston–New York [1917].
The War of Independence. Boston, 1917.
The Critical Period of American History, 1783–1789. Boston–New York, 1898.

REFERENCE

Dement’ev, I. P. “Istoricheskie vzgliady Dzh. Fiske.” In the collection Istoriia i istoriki, 1971. Moscow, 1973.

I. P. DEMENT’EV

Fiske, John (b. Edmund Fisk Green)

(1842–1901) historian, philosopher; born in Hartford, Conn. A precocious child, he changed his name to John Fisk at age 13, to Fiske at 18. After graduating from Harvard University (1863), he tried his hand at law and became a lecturer (1869–79) and librarian (1872–79) at Harvard. A prolific author, he then embarked on a career as one of America's most celebrated lecturers on history. He popularized and championed contemporary scientific, philosophic, and historical thought, especially the theory of evolution. A synthesizer rather than an originator of ideas, he attracted many distinguished scholars to historical studies. In his later years he turned to writing about American history, and from 1884–1901, he taught American history at Washington University in St. Louis.
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Serving as moderators for each group were NCEW members Maura Casey, Phineas Fiske, John Taylor, and Bernard Stein.