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Kenneth T. Jackson

2016 Alexander Hamilton Medal Recipient

Photo of Kenneth T. Jackson

Kenneth T. Jackson is director of the Herbert H. Lehman Center for the Study of American History and is the Jacques Barzun Professor of History at Columbia, where he has chaired the Department of History. A visiting professor across the nation and a Fulbright Lecturer around the world, Jackson has been a featured guest on both broadcast and cable television, as well as over 40 documentaries. He is general editor of the Columbia History of Urban Life and was editor-in-chief of the Dictionary of American Biography 1990–96. He has served as president of the Organization of American Historians (2000-2001), the New York Historical Society 2001-2004 and the Academy of History (2013- present).

Noteworthy Accomplishments in History

Jackson’s best known publication, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (1985), won both the Francis Parkman and the Bancroft Prizes. In addition, he worked for thirteen years to create the first major reference tool for the giant metropolis in almost a century: Encyclopedia of New York City, of which he was the editor-in-chief. Initially published in a single, 1373 page volume in 1995, the Encyclopedia has been reprinted many times and the second edition came out in 2010 and now includes more than two million words. According to The New York Times, “no one with even a passing interest in New York will be able to live without it.”

Photo of Kenneth T. Jackson with President Bill Clinton

A strong advocate of history as the core of social studies, Professor Jackson has chaired two nationwide efforts to improve and expand history teaching in America’s elementary and secondary institution, and has directed seven National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminars for instructors. He was a member of the New York State Social Studies Syllabus Review Committee in 1990 and the National Council for History Standards between 1992 and 1996.

You can't throw a rock on the Upper West Side without hitting someone who took [Jackson's History of New York City] class.

Ric Burns CC78

Service to the College

A graduate of the University of Memphis (B.A. magna cum laude, 1961) and the University of Chicago (M.A., 1963; Ph.D., 1966), Jackson served for three years as an officer in the United States Air Force before joining the Columbia faculty as an assistant professor in 1968. He was promoted to associate professor in 1971, full professor in 1976, and to the Andrew W. Mellon professorship in 1987. In 1989, he earned Columbia’s Mark Van Doren Award, and the following year he assumed the Barzun professorship, which honors one of the nation’s most distinguished men of letters. In 1999, he earned the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates, followed by Columbia’s Nicholas Murray Butler Medal in 2005. In 2001, the New York Council for the Humanities selected him as the New York State Scholar of the Year.

Photo of Kenneth T. Jackson during the 2014 Midnight Bike Ride

Among his many contributions to the College, Jackson helped organize the first urban studies program, an interdisciplinary course of study, and later contributed to the program's restructuring. But it has been his courses on New York City for which he's most widely known, leading all-night bicycle NYC rides, three-hour walking tours and all-day bus trips for decades. He was featured as the central character in the 2004 Varsity Show “Off-Broadway.”

For more information, read his profile on the campaign website as well as his cover story from the 2001 winter issue of Columbia College Today “A New York State of Mind.” Explore his website here.


Professor Jackson lectures you like you're friends sitting in the living room in front of a fire. He makes you feel like your thoughts and opinions and your take on history are important. When you're 20 years old, that's invaluable.

Suzy Shuster CC94

Photo from 2015 Hamilton Dinner

Alexander Hamilton Medal

Named in honor of one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton (Class of 1778), the Alexander Hamilton Medal is the highest honor one can receive from Columbia College Alumni Association. It is awarded to members of the community for both distinguished service to the College and exceptional accomplishment in any field of endeavor.

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