Eric Foner

Eric FonerColumbia University
New York, New York

“Rarely have the study and teaching of history aroused such intense controversy as today. Public interest in how history is conceptualized and taught is to be applauded; however, the increasingly strident calls to reverse the recent achievements of a more heterogeneous profession, a broadened curriculum, and a more nuanced understanding of the American past must be resisted.”


Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, came to history through the influences of his home, an encounter with an inspiring professor, and his efforts as a young adult to understand the civil rights movement. Although he had originally thought he wanted to study physics, he saw the world changing and his desire to understand what was happening nudged him toward history.

Foner has felt from the beginning of his career that historians have a responsibility to promote a more accurate understanding of history and to do this in every venue possible. Since many people receive their historical understanding from movies, museums, and historic sites, Foner believes it is important for academic historians to be involved with those public historians who do not have the luxury of engaging in full-time scholarly research. He has worked with the staff of the National Park Service to bring modern scholarship to bear on the interpretations of the Gettysburg battlefield that are offered to the public during their visits to the park. In 1990 he played a major role in the development of the Chicago Historical Society’s permanent exhibit on the Civil War, A House Divided, and more recently he worked on a traveling exhibit on Reconstruction that toured the country for four years.

In 1991 Foner received the “Great Teacher Award” from the Society of Columbia Graduates. His book, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, received numerous prizes. He has served as president of both the OAH and the AHA.