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Hubert Howe Bancroft
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Hubert Howe Bancroft

Hubert Howe Bancroft (May 5, 18321918), American historical writer, was born at Granville, Ohio. From 1852 to 1868 he was a bookseller in San Francisco. During this period he accumulated a great library of historical material, and at last gave up business in order to devote himself to the publication of his Native Races af the Pacific States (5 vols. 18741876), History of the Pacific States of North America (21 vols. 18821890), and other works. The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley is named in his honor.

Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832–1918), of San Francisco, who gave us our most conspicuous group of local histories. Having formed a large collection of materials on the history of the Pacific coast, he decided to embody the contents in a comprehensive work. He adopted the method of the business man who has a task too large for his own efforts. He employed assistants to prepare statements of the facts for large sections of the proposed history. Originally he seems to have intended to use these statements as the basis of a narrative from his own hand; but as the work progressed he came to use them with slight changes. We have his own word that the assistants were capable investigators and there is independent evidence to show that some of them deserved his confidence. But his failure to give credit leaves us in a state of doubt concerning the value of any particular part. Bancroft considered himself the author of the work. We must look upon him as the director of a useful enterprise, but it is not possible to consider him its author.

His Works contain thirty-nine large volumes with the following titles: Native Races of the Pacific States (vols. 1–5, 1874), History of Central America (vols. 6–8, 1883–87), History of Mexico (vols. 9–14, 1883–87), History of the Northern Mexican States and Texas (vols. 15–16, 1884–89), History of Arizona and New Mexico (vol. 17, 1889), History of California (vols. 18–24, 1884–90), History of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming (vol. 25, 1890), History of Utah (vol. 26, 1889), History of the North-West Coast (vols. 27–28, 1884), History of Oregon (vols. 29–30, 1886–88), History of Washington, Idaho, and Montana (vol. 31, 1890), History of British Columbia (vol. 32, 1887), History of Alaska (vol. 33, 1886), California Pastorals (vol. 34, 1888), California inter Pocula (vol. 35, 1888), Popular Tribunals (vols. 36–37, 1887), Essays and Miscellany (vol. 38, 1890), and Literary Industries (vol. 39, 1890).

Neither Bancroft nor his assistants had the preliminary training to save them from the ordinary pitfalls along the path of the scholar. They carried to their tasks uncritical enthusiasms and made good books which, nevertheless, had some serious defects. In a period when the reviewer generally appraised a book for its style Bancroft’s early volumes generally received approbation. Francis Parkman himself gave The Native Races high credit in The North American Review. But the work did not escape the eyes of Lewis H. Morgan, whose revolutionary theory of Indian culture was then new to the world. In an article called “Montezuma’s Dinner” Morgan completely reversed Parkman’s verdict and implanted a doubt in the minds of the intelligent public which extended to other volumes of the series. Bancroft’s comments on Morgan’s criticism suggest that he did not understand Morgan’s theory, now generally accepted by scholars.

Hubert Howe Bancroft is interred in the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

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