Eric Foner

Eric Foner

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Eric Foner is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

. On the faculty of the Department of History at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 since 1982, he writes extensively on political history, the history of freedom, the early history of the Republican Party
History of the United States Republican Party
The United States Republican Party is the second oldest currently existing political party in the United States after its great rival, the Democratic Party. It emerged in 1854 to combat the Kansas Nebraska Act which threatened to extend slavery into the territories, and to promote more vigorous...

, African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 biography, Reconstruction, and historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

. Foner is the leading contemporary historian of the post-Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 Reconstruction period, having written Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, winner of many prizes for history writing, and more than ten other books on the topic. In 2011, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, Foner's most recent book, was selected as the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize for History
The Pulitzer Prize for History has been awarded since 1917 for a distinguished book upon the history of the United States. Many history books have also been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography...

, Lincoln Prize
Lincoln Prize
The Lincoln Prize, endowed by Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and administered by the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, has been awarded annually since 1991 for the best non-fiction historical work of the year on the American Civil War. It is named for U.S...

 and the Bancroft Prize
Bancroft Prize
The Bancroft Prize is awarded each year by the trustees of Columbia University for books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas. It was established in 1948 by a bequest from Frederic Bancroft...

. Foner also won the Bancroft in 1989 for his book Reconstruction.

In 2000, he was elected president of the American Historical Association
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials...

.

Early life


Foner was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, the son of Liza (née Kraitz), a high school art teacher, and historian Jack D. Foner
Jack D. Foner
Jack Donald Foner was an American historian best known for writing histories of the labor movement and the struggle for civil rights. He was born in Brooklyn, New York. A professor of American history, he established one of the first programs in black studies in the United States...

, who actively supported the Spanish Republic
Spanish Republic
There have been two Spanish Republics:* First Spanish Republic * Second Spanish Republic Spain is not currently a republic, but a constitutional monarchy...

 against fascism
Fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

, the trade union movement, and the campaign for civil rights for African Americans. In 1981, Jack Foner received an apology from the New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 Board of Higher Education for an "egregious violation of academic freedom" in 1941 that had resulted in his blacklisting for thirty years. Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener
Jon Wiener is an American professor of history at the University of California Irvine, a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and a Los Angeles radio host. He was the plaintiff in a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its files on John Lennon.-...

, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine
University of California, Irvine
The University of California, Irvine , founded in 1965, is one of the ten campuses of the University of California, located in Irvine, California, USA...

, wrote that Eric Foner describes his father as his "first great teacher," and recalls how, "deprived of his livelihood while I was growing up, he supported our family as a freelance lecturer... . Listening to his lectures, I came to appreciate how present concerns can be illuminated by the study of the past—how the repression of the McCarthy era recalled the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution's reign of terror and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams...

, the civil rights movement needed to be viewed in light of the great struggles of Black and White abolitionists, and in the brutal suppression of the Philippine insurrection at the turn of the century could be found the antecedents of American intervention in Vietnam. I also imbibed a way of thinking about the past in which visionaries and underdogs—Tom Paine, Wendell Phillips
Wendell Phillips
Wendell Phillips was an American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, and orator. He was an exceptional orator and agitator, advocate and lawyer, writer and debater.-Education:...

, Eugene V. Debs
Eugene V. Debs
Eugene Victor Debs was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World , and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States...

, and W. E. B. Du Bois—were as central to the historical drama as presidents and captains of industry, and how a commitment to social justice could infuse one's attitudes towards the past."

Foner earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 in 1963; a second B.A. from Oriel College, Oxford, as a Kellett Fellow
Kellett Fellowship
The Euretta J. Kellett Fellowship is a prestigious prize awarded to two graduating seniors a year at Columbia College, the main undergraduate school of Columbia University...

 in 1965; and a Ph.D. in 1969, under the tutelage of Richard Hofstadter
Richard Hofstadter
Richard Hofstadter was an American public intellectual of the 1950s, a historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University...

 at Columbia University.

Career


Appointed the DeWitt Clinton
DeWitt Clinton
DeWitt Clinton was an early American politician and naturalist who served as United States Senator and the sixth Governor of New York. In this last capacity he was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal...

 Professor of History at Columbia University, Foner specializes in nineteenth century American history, the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, slavery
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

, and Reconstruction. He served as president of the Organization of American Historians
Organization of American Historians
The Organization of American Historians , formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. OAH's members in the U.S...

 in (1993–94), and of the American Historical Association
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials...

 (2000).

From 1973-1982, he served as a Professor in the Department of History at City College
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

 and Graduate Center at City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

. In 1976-1977, he was a visiting professor of American History at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

. In 1980 he was Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions
Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions
The Pitt Professorship of American History and Institutions was established on 5 February 1944 from a sum of £44,000 received from the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press in 1943 and augmented by a further £5,000 in 1946...

 at the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

.

Foner serves on the editorial boards of Past and Present
Past & Present
Past & Present is a British historical academic journal, which was a leading force in the development of social history. It was founded in 1952 by a combination of Marxist and non-Marxist historians. The Marxist historians included members of the Communist Party Historians Group, including E. P...

 and The Nation. He has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

, London Review of Books
London Review of Books
The London Review of Books is a fortnightly British magazine of literary and intellectual essays.-History:The LRB was founded in 1979, during the year-long lock-out at The Times, by publisher A...

, and other publications. In addition, he has spoken about history on television and radio, including Charlie Rose
Charlie Rose
Charles Peete "Charlie" Rose, Jr. is an American television talk show host and journalist. Since 1991 he has hosted Charlie Rose, an interview show distributed nationally by PBS since 1993...

, Book Notes, and All Things Considered
All Things Considered
All Things Considered is the flagship news program on the American network National Public Radio. It was the first news program on NPR, and is broadcast live worldwide through several outlets...

, and appeared in historical documentaries on PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

 and The History Channel
The History Channel
History, formerly known as The History Channel, is an American-based international satellite and cable TV channel that broadcasts a variety of reality shows and documentary programs including those of fictional and non-fictional historical content, together with speculation about the future.-...

. Foner also contributed an essay and conversation with John Sayles in Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, published by the Society of American Historians in 1995. He was the historian in Freedom: A History of US on PBS in 2003.

Exhibitions


With Olivia Mahoney, chief curator at the Chicago History Museum Foner curated two prize-winning exhibitions on American history: A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln, which opened at the Chicago History Museum in 1990, and America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War, a traveling exhibit that opened at the Virginia Historical Society
Virginia Historical Society
The Virginia Historical Society , founded in 1831 as the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society and headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is a major repository, research, and teaching center for Virginia history...

 in 1995. He revised the presentation of American history at the Hall of Presidents
Hall of Presidents
The Hall of Presidents is an attraction located in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort. The attraction is a multi-media presentation and stage show featuring Audio-Animatronic figures of all 43 U.S. Presidents. It opened on October 1, 1971, along with the rest of...

 at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom Park is one of four theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort located near Orlando, Florida. The first park built at the resort, Magic Kingdom opened Oct. 1, 1971. Designed and built by WED Enterprises, the park's layout and attractions are similar to Disneyland in Anaheim, California...

, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, also known as The Disneyland Story presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, is the name of an attraction featuring an audio-animatronic version of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. It was originally showcased as the prime feature of the State of Illinois Pavilion at...

 at Disneyland, and has served as consultant to several National Park Service
National Park Service
The National Park Service is the U.S. federal agency that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations...

 historical sites and historical museums.

Foner served as an expert witness for the University of Michigan's defense of affirmative action in its undergraduate and law school admissions (Gratz v. Bollinger
Gratz v. Bollinger
Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 , was a United States Supreme Court case regarding the University of Michigan undergraduate affirmative action admissions policy...

 and Grutter v. Bollinger
Grutter v. Bollinger
Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 , was a case in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School...

) considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

Prizes


In 1989, Foner won the Avery O. Craven Award
Avery O. Craven Award
The Avery O. Craven Award, first given in 1985, is awarded annually by the Organization of American Historians for the most original history book on the coming of the American Civil War, the Civil War years , or the Era of Reconstruction , with the exception of works of purely military history....

 from the Organization of American Historians
Organization of American Historians
The Organization of American Historians , formerly known as the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. OAH's members in the U.S...

. In 1991, Foner won the Great Teacher Award] from the Society of Columbia Graduates. In 1995, he was named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 and of the British Academy
British Academy
The British Academy is the United Kingdom's national body for the humanities and the social sciences. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value.It receives an annual...

 and holds an honorary doctorate from Iona College
Iona College (New York)
Iona College is located in New Rochelle, New York, 20 miles north of Manhattan in suburban Westchester County. The college occupies 35 acres on North Ave. The college also operates a Graduate Center in Pearl River, Rockland County, New York....

. He has taught at Cambridge University
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 as Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, at Oxford University as Harmsworth Professor of American History and at Moscow State University
Moscow State University
Lomonosov Moscow State University , previously known as Lomonosov University or MSU , is the largest university in Russia. Founded in 1755, it also claims to be one of the oldest university in Russia and to have the tallest educational building in the world. Its current rector is Viktor Sadovnichiy...

 as Fulbright Professor. In 2007, the alumni of Columbia College voted to give him the John Jay
John Jay
John Jay was an American politician, statesman, revolutionary, diplomat, a Founding Father of the United States, and the first Chief Justice of the United States ....

 Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement. In 2011, his new book, "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" won the Pulitzer Prize for history, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize.

Praise


Journalist Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff
Nathan Irving "Nat" Hentoff is an American historian, novelist, jazz and country music critic, and syndicated columnist for United Media and writes regularly on jazz and country music for The Wall Street Journal....

 called his Story of American Freedom "an indispensable book that should be read in every school in the land." "Eric Foner is one of the most prolific, creative, and influential American historians of the past 20 years," according to a write-up in the Washington Post. His work is "brilliant, important" a reviewer wrote in the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

.

Historian Michael Perman notes Foner's significance as an historian of the Reconstruction era:

Criticism


In a review of The Story of American Freedom in the New York Review of Books, Theodore Draper
Theodore Draper
Theodore H. "Ted" Draper was an American historian and political writer. Draper is best known for the 14 books which he completed during his life, including work regarded as seminal on the formative period of the American Communist Party, the Cuban Revolution, and the Iran-Contra Affair...

 wrote, "If the story of American freedom is told largely from the perspective of blacks and women, especially the former, it is not going to be a pretty tale. Yet most Americans thought of themselves not only as free but as the freest people in the world." John Patrick Diggins of the City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

 wrote that Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, was a "magisterial" and "moving" narrative, but compared Foner's "unforgiving" view of America for its racist past to his notably different views on the fall of communism and Soviet history.

Some conservatives have attacked Foner. David Horowitz labeled as "anti-American" a Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 teach-in
Teach-in
A teach-in is similar to a general educational forum on any complicated issue, usually an issue involving current political affairs. The main difference between a teach-in and a seminar is the refusal to limit the discussion to a specific frame of time or an academic scope of the topic. Teach-ins...

 that Foner helped organize in 2003; Daniel Pipes
Daniel Pipes
Daniel Pipes is an American historian, writer, and political commentator. He is the founder and director of the Middle East Forum and its Campus Watch project, and editor of its Middle East Quarterly journal...

 named Foner among the "Profs who hate America" (for the historian's opposition to the Iraq War).

Personal life


Foner is married to Lynn Garafola
Lynn Garafola
Lynn Garafola is a prominent dance historian, critic, and frequent commentator on dance for The Nation magazine and numerous other periodicals. Noted dance critic Marcia Siegel has written of Garafola, “I do not know of another dance historian with the courage and the sophistication to bypass the...

, professor of dance at Barnard College
Barnard College
Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college and a member of the Seven Sisters. Founded in 1889, Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900. The campus stretches along Broadway between 116th and 120th Streets in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the borough...

 and dance critic, historian, and curator. They have one daughter. He had been previously married to screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal
Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal
Naomi Gyllenhaal is an American screenwriter. She has written the screenplays for several feature films, including Running on Empty , Losing Isaiah, and most recently Bee Season. She is...

.

Eric Foner is the nephew of Marxist labor historian
Marxist historiography
Marxist or historical materialist historiography is a school of historiography influenced by Marxism. The chief tenets of Marxist historiography are the centrality of social class and economic constraints in determining historical outcomes....

 Philip S. Foner, now deceased.

Quotations


"Like all momentous events, September 11 is a remarkable teaching opportunity. But only if we use it to open rather than to close debate. Critical intellectual analysis is our responsibility—to ourselves and to our students." - "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World" History News Network

"[S]uccessful teaching rests both on a genuine and selfless concern for students and on the ability to convey to them a love of history." - Eric Foner, Who Owns History? (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2002), page 7.

"In a global age, the forever-unfinished story of American freedom must become a conversation with the entire world, not a complacent monologue with ourselves." - "American Freedom in a Global Age" Presidential Address to the American Historical Association annual meeting January 2001.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001: "It was a rare commentator indeed who pointed out that Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the founder of the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets...

 and the Islamic fundamentalists of Afghanistan were trained and armed by our side during the 1980s or that the list of states that harbour terrorism include some close allies of the United States."

"Events are only inevitable after they happen." -Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World

Books

Reissued with a new preface.,editor, editor Political history; and winner, in 1989, of the Bancroft Prize
Bancroft Prize
The Bancroft Prize is awarded each year by the trustees of Columbia University for books about diplomacy or the history of the Americas. It was established in 1948 by a bequest from Frederic Bancroft...

, the Francis Parkman Prize
Francis Parkman Prize
The Francis Parkman Prize, named after Francis Parkman, is awarded by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history each year. Its purpose is to promote literary distinction in historical writing...

, the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

 Book Award, the Avery O. Craven Prize, and the Lionel Trilling Prize. An abridgement of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution., editor, editor A survey of United States history, published with companion volumes of documents,
  • 'Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, ISBN 0-393-92503-X (vol. 1), and ISBN 0-393-92504-8 (vol. 2).


Some of his books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese.

Articles


Secession and the Soviet Union


In an article in the February 11th, 1991 edition of The Nation
The Nation
The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States. The periodical, devoted to politics and culture, is self-described as "the flagship of the left." Founded on July 6, 1865, It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.The Nation...

 Foner addresses the proposed secession of the Baltic States from the Soviet Union. These states claimed “the right to secede in part because they were annexed in 1940 against the wishes of their citizens after more than two decades of independence”.

Foner takes note of political scientist Ronald Suny's opinion that the current crisis (in 1990) that the Soviet Union was facing with respect to these states “reflect[ed] the failure of Soviet nationality policy” which served to “strengthen nationalism in the republics, while the fate of minorities within those political units became extremely problematic.”

Foner wrote of potential problems with the separatist movements by these states:
Foner asked the question, “What is the proper unit for self-determination? What happens to residents who want to remain part of the larger unit.” Drawing an analogy from the American Civil War, Foner noted that West Virginia successfully separated from Virginia and returned to the Union while the Confederate States of America “violently suppress[ed] East Tennessee’s desire to remain within the Union” while Texas treated pro-Union Germans with “extreme brutality”. While visiting in Tbilisi, Foner was told that “autonomous regions of non-Georgians within the republic” would not be allowed to secede.

Further reading

  • Diggins, John Patrick. "Fate and freedom in history: the two worlds of Eric Foner," The National Interest, Fall, 2002 Issue 69, pp 79-90 online
  • Snowman, Daniel, "Eric Foner", History Today Volume 50, Issue 1, January 2000, pp. 26–27 .

External links