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Eric Foner CC’63, GSAS’69

2016 Alexander Hamilton Medal Recipient

Photo of Eric Foner

Daniella Zalcman CC'09

Eric Foner CC63, GSAS69, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, is one of the United States’ most prominent historians. The author or editor of more than twenty books, his publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history and the history of American race relations. He is on the editorial boards of Past and Present and The Nation, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, London Review of Books and many other publications.

Noteworthy Accomplishments in History

Foner is one of only two persons to serve as president of the major professional organizations in his field: the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the Society of American Historians, and one of a handful to have won the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes in the same year. He has also received honorary degrees from six institutions, including Princeton and Dartmouth, and been the curator of several museum exhibitions, including the award-winning "A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln," at the Chicago Historical Society and exhibits at both Disneyworld and Disneyland.

Photo of Eric Foner in the classroom

His book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln prizes for 2011 (read an excerpt in Columbia College Today's January/February 2011 Columbia Forum). His book Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, published in 1988, remains the standard history of that period. His latest book is Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. His page on Columbia’s History Department website can be viewed here.

Eric Foner's impact on his many students is inestimable. In addition to the example set by his extraordinary body of scholarly work, Eric has been a helpful and gracious mentor throughout my career, to me and to so many.”

Leslie M. Harris CC88

Service to the College

Foner comes from a family of historians; both his father, Philip S. Foner and uncle, Jack D. Foner, received their masters and PhD degrees in history from Columbia. As a Columbia College student, Foner majored in math, science and astronomy until his junior year when he took a seminar on the Civil War and Reconstruction with the legendary Professor James (Jim) Shenton. Foner graduated the following year, 1963, summa cum laude majoring in history. He went on to pursue a second B.A. degree at Oxford on a Kellett Fellowship from Columbia, and returned to complete his PhD in 1969. From then until 1973, he served as an assistant professor, teaching Columbia’s first course on what was then called Afro-American History. He then taught for a decade at City College and the Graduate Center of CUNY.

Photo of Eric Foner teaching in classroom

In 1982, Foner returned to Columbia, and in 1988 he was appointed the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, the same chair occupied by Richard Hofstadter, who had supervised his undergraduate senior thesis 24 years earlier, and his doctoral dissertation. Foner earned Columbia Graduates’ Great Teacher Award in 1991, as well as Columbia’s Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2006 and the College’s John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement in 2007. This fall, he receives the College’s highest honor, the Alexander Hamilton Medal.

For more information, read the feature in the 2012-13 Winter issue of Columbia College Today, “Freedom Writer” and explore Foner’s website.


“Masterfully weaving our contemporary narrative into the history of our country, his lectures are some of the most engaging I experienced in college. I'm thankful to have acquired this understanding and perspective from Professor Foner.

Lauren Dwyer CC’11, BUS’16

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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