2016 Alexander Hamilton Medal Recipient
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”