VISIT | Studying the Grave of the American Pulitzer Vernon Louis Parrington | Gloucestershire
A Pulitzer Winning Academic From America
Discover the final resting place of American academic and Pulitzer Prize Winner for History Vernon Louis Parrington in Winchcombe Cemetery
An essential but hidden part of Winchcombe's pleasures - essential for every American loving football playing fan
Find an intriguing part of American academia
"...a Pulitzer Prize winner where one would never expect..."
It is a contradiction. Winchcombe is a popular place for international tourists particularly Americans who marvel at the cute Cotswold stone buildings and walls, the Arts and Craft Design and the historic buildings, shops, restaurants and hotels. Even the Cotswold Way long distance walking path weaves its way through its centre equally popular with our North American friends. But in their quest for English countryside perfection, they are missing out on something special.
Few Brits I suspect know that in the quiet residential corner of Winchcombe in Cotswold Gloucestershire lies the final remains of an American lynchpin of academic writing, a university professor of English, historian and literary scholar, a former American football coach of the University of Oklahoma and a Pulitzer prize winning author. And yet here at Winchcombe, here he lies.
His name - Vernon Louis Parrington.
He was the professor at the University of Washington; even now there is a building there, Parrington Hall, named for him in 1930 used by the English Department.
He seems to have been enamoured with classic English academic; he visited Cambridge and Oxford, marvelled at the spires. But it is in his writing and in his approach that Parrington made innovation, provoked a response. It was two volumes of his book Main Currents in American Thought that have become synonymous to his name. Those tomes which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1928. The books, his ideas were essential reading, standout pieces of critical writing for American historical and literary thinking and analysis.
The grandson of English migrants from Yorkshire looking for better than industrial class poverty and struggle in the wool industry, young Vernon would be born in Aurora, Illinois and the son of a judge. He went to Harvard but along with his position at the University of Oklahoma struggled with perception and seems to have been destined to stand out from the crowd; he was quickly picked up by the University of Washington for the English Department.
He visited England and France in the early 1900s to research and write. But it was at Washington and Seattle where he found comfortable surroundings and a place to settle. Parrington with his ideas and his book would become the founding father of American Studies; a loose interconnection of culture, economic theory and development and of course history.
So how come… I hear you say? How come Vernon Parrington would come to end his days at little ole’ Winchcombe? In 1929, Parrington and his family took a trip to Europe; they had been in England for a couple of months. They had spent time in Oxford, Cheltenham and stopped at the George Hotel in Winchcombe in mid-June. That Sunday June 16th, his wife and family went down for lunch leaving Vernon typing up notes in their room. When they returned, Vernon Louis Parrington was found on his bed unmoving; he had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Why did his family decide to bury him here at Winchcombe? Why not send him back on the boat to America?
His headstone on his grave at Winchcombe Cemetery surrounded now by suburban homes and bungalows so far removed from academic study and America. It reads:
Born Aug 3 1871 AD
Aurora Ill USA
Died June 16 1929
And so here he lies. In quiet rest. Far from America but close by to those American friends who come visit the England of Cotswold stone. His friends published the third and final volume of Main Currents in American Thought after his death from his unfinished manuscript. The book became a discussion of American historical liberalism. But now in post-modernist America, Parrington’s ideas seem unfashionable, lacking depth and in absence of an apparent truth of the States. But still the second head coach of the University of Oklahoma’s football team. And still remembered by some. But maybe unknown to those in this Gloucestershire landscape who do not know he is there.
Vernon Louis Parrington – a tourist who never left Winchcombe.
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