Terra Cognita

Newsletter of the Society for the History of Discoveries

Page 2

May 2006

John (Jack) Parker, FSHD

died from complications from leukemia. At the 2002 annual meeting of the society held at Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, he was named Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries (FSHD).

There are others in the Society for the History of Discoveries who knew Jack Parker better, but not many knew him longer than I did. I first met Jack in 1957 when I was a doctoral student in the department of geography at the University of Minnesota. I wandered over to the recently created James Ford Bell Library and introduced myself. Jack was very kind and graciously gave me a tour, but alas, I did not have a serious conversation with him again until after I became a member of the SHD in 1965. A highlight of every meeting I attended thereafter was spending time visiting with him. It was even more enjoyable when Jack was accompanied by his two daughters, Jackie Cherryhomes-Tyler and Sarah Parker. When Jack failed to attend the annual meeting in Williamsburg, all of us knew that the condition of his health was grave. Otherwise, he would have been there.

When Jack Parker retired from his position at the James Ford Bell Library and the University of Minnesota in 1991, his assistant curator of twenty-five years, Carol Urness, edited a bound volume to honor his life and career. A Book for Jack: Words To, By, and About John Parker (1991) is a testament to Jack’s incredible abilities as an antiquarian, scholar, and humanitarian. It included essays by family and friends, a hundred letters from friends, and a selection of his writings. Carol has remarked, “I was reminded how much Jack cared about words. He was a wordsmith.” Readers of this book cannot help but be impressed by how highly Jack was respected.

Jack Parker was born in Nekoma, North Dakota on May 15, 1923, the fourth of five children. He began his college studies at Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, but this was cut short when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He saw duty in India and the South Pacific. Back at Jamestown College after the war, he met Patricia Falstad and they were married on September 5, 1948. They then moved to Michigan where Jack subsequently earned a master’s degree in history at Wayne State University, and the Ph.D. in library science at the University of Michigan.

In 1953, Jack Parker became the first curator

of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota, a position he held until retirement. I personally believe that Jack Parker possessed the very best job that anyone in academia could hold. He traveled the world over, searched for and purchased magnificent rare books and maps, and spent someone else’s money. And what a wonderful job he did. The James Ford Bell Library grew to international acclaim as a resource for those interested in the early merchant trade, missionary activities, and explorations in North America. The library became a mecca for scholars conducting research in the history of cartography and geographical exploration and discovery. Further, he mentored many students who took the special courses he taught at the university.

Jack Parker, along with Thomas Goldstein and Steve Slessarev, while at the International Congress on the History of Discoveries in Lisbon, Portugal in 1960, conceived the idea of creating an organization in the United States where scholars, librarians, antiquarians, and everyone else with an interest in geographical exploration and the history of cartography could find an intellectual home. Thus the Society for the History of Discoveries came to be. In the early years, Jack was the heart and soul of the society – he served as Executive Secretary and Treasurer for eleven years, he was instrumental in the creation of the society’s scholarly journal, Terrae Incognitae, and he wrote articles for the new journal, which subsequently has seen thirty-seven annual volumes published. If not for Jack, the society would not have survived those early years. Recognizing his contributions to scholarship, and his vital continuous support of the society, he was elected in 2002 a Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries. The heartfelt citation for Jack was written by Carol Urness (his successor as Curator at the James Ford Bell Library), and was presented to him at the annual meeting in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, where his daughters were in attendance.

As president of the society in 1980-1981, he presided over an annual meeting held in Columbus, Ohio, where it was determined that the SHD would produce a volume that would include all the arguments and theories related to Columbus’ First Landfall in 1492. Jack and Louis De Vorsey were named editors, and the work was presented in volume 15 of Terrae Incognitae as a special issue. It was then published as a book by Wayne State University Press in 1985 titled In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy. Jack wrote the

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