In his own research Bruce combined a nostalgia for the traditions of the Old South, the boosterism of the New South, and a new interest in the earliest period of Virginia's history. He conceived of a three-part project intended to demonstrate that the idealized society of his youth had its basis in the seventeenth century. The first fruit of this research was Bruce's two-volume Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based upon Original and Contemporaneous Records (1896), which made significant contributions to understanding Virginia's early economic history and the rise to wealth of its great landed families.
Bruce moved to Norfolk in 1907. He had inherited more than 1,400 acres of land from his parents' estate in Charlotte County, the income from which enabled him to engage in historical scholarship for the remainder of his life. In 1907 Bruce published the second part of his series on seventeenth-century Virginia, the one-volume Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Higher Planting Class, together with an Account of the Habits, Customs, and Diversions of the People. Its focus on the "higher planting class" fit the then-current notions of social history. Bruce sought the origins of the present in the past and attempted to discover how Virginia's great early planters evolved into the celebrated colonial squirearchy and its commercial leaders, the forerunners of the New South.
The stereotype of the Old South took firm root in Bruce's memory of his own childhood, his views of the past, and his scholarship. This vision is clearly evident in the laudatory popular biography of Robert E. Lee that Bruce published in 1907 and in Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers (1916), both reflecting his lifelong allegiance to the Lost Cause and to the mythology and symbolism of the Old South. In 1916 Bruce moved to Charlottesville as centennial historian of the University of Virginia. Working in the library and from the university's archives he wrote the five-volume History of the University of Virginia, 1819–1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man (1920–1922). Bruce treated the university as both an educational and a cultural institution. The subtitle summed up his belief that Thomas Jefferson's influence had been pervasive throughout the university's history and that in turn the university's influence had been profoundly significant in the history of Virginia.
Bruce's works of popular history and on the American Civil War (1861–1865) have long been forgotten, and most of his scholarly works have been superseded. His writings on race and on elite whites are no longer persuasive, but his five volumes on the economic, institutional, and social history of seventeenth-century Virginia are still cited as important works of scholarship. Bruce did painstaking research in colonial land and court records and grounded his work in the available primary sources. The volumes have all been reprinted and have influenced subsequent textbook authors, giving his most important scholarly work an enduring place in the literature of Virginia's history.
- The Plantation Negro as a Freeman: Observations on His Character, Condition, and Prospects in Virginia ( 1889)
- Economic History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Material Condition of the People, Based upon Original and Contemporaneous Records (2 vols., 1896)
- A School History of the United States (1903)
- The Rise of the New South (1905)
- Social Life of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Origin of the Higher Planting Class, together with an Account of the Habits, Customs, and Diversions of the People (1907)
- Robert E. Lee (1907)
- Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century: An Inquiry into the Religious, Moral, Educational, Legal, Military, and Political Condition of the People, Based on Original and Contemporaneous Records (2 vols., 1910)
- Pocahontas and Other Sonnets (1912)
- Brave Deeds of Confederate Soldiers (1916)
- History of the University of Virginia, 1819–1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man (5 vols., 1920–1922)
- The Virginia Plutarch (1929)
- Virginia: Rebirth of the Old Dominion (1929)
March 7, 1856 - Philip Alexander Bruce is born at Staunton Hill in Charlotte County.
1871–1873 - Philip Alexander Bruce attends the Norwood School in Nelson County.
1873–1875 - Philip Alexander Bruce attends the University of Virginia.
1878 - Philip Alexander Bruce graduates from the law school of Harvard University.
1878–1879 - Philip Alexander Bruce studies law under John B. Minor at the University of Virginia.
1879 - Philip Alexander Bruce establishes a law practice in Baltimore.
1884 - Philip Alexander Bruce authors his first book, The Plantation Negro as Freeman. It does not find a publisher for five years, however.
1887 - Philip Alexander Bruce moves to Richmond and works as secretary and treasurer of the Vulcan Iron Works.
1890 - By this year Philip Alexander Bruce has joined the editorial staff of the Richmond Times.
1892 - Philip Alexander Bruce becomes corresponding secretary and librarian of the Virginia Historical Society.
1893 - Philip Alexander Bruce helps to found the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. He is the magazine's first editor.
October 19, 1896 - Philip Alexander Bruce and Elizabeth Tunstall Taylor Newton marry. They will have one daughter.
1898 - Philip Alexander Bruce resigns from the Virginia Historical Society.
1907 - Philip Alexander Bruce moves from Richmond to Norfolk.
1907 - Philip Alexander Bruce receives an honorary doctorate from the College of William and Mary.
1908 - Philip Alexander Bruce receives an honorary doctorate from Washington and Lee University.
1916 - Philip Alexander Bruce moves to Charlottesville, where he serves as the centennial historian of the University of Virginia.
1918–1933 - Philip Alexander Bruce serves as a vice president of the Virginia Historical Society.
August 16, 1933 - Philip Alexander Bruce dies at his home in Charlottesville and is buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Simms, L. M., Jr., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Philip Alexander Bruce (1856–1933). (2016, April 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Bruce_Philip_Alexander_1856-1933.
- MLA Citation:
Simms, L. Moody, Jr. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Philip Alexander Bruce (1856–1933)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 14 Apr. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 22, 2016 | Last modified: April 14, 2016
Contributed by L. Moody Simms Jr. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.