Eric Foner (; born February 7, 1943) is an American historian. He writes extensively on American political history, the history of freedom, the early history of the Republican Party, African-American biography, Reconstruction, and historiography, and has been a member of the faculty at the Columbia University Department of History since 1982. He is the author of several popular textbooks. According to the Open Syllabus Project, Foner is the most frequently cited author on college syllabi for history courses.
Foner is a leading contemporary historian of the Reconstruction period, having published Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 in 1989 and more than 10 other books on the topic. His online courses on "The Civil War and Reconstruction", published in 2014, are available from Columbia University on ColumbiaX.
In 2011, Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for History, the Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize. Foner previously won the Bancroft Prize in 1989 for his book Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. In 2000, he was elected president of the American Historical Association. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2018.
Early life and education
Foner was born in New York City, New York, the son of Jewish parents Liza (née Kraitz), a high school art teacher, and historian Jack D. Foner, who was active in the trade union movement and the campaign for civil rights for African Americans. 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, 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, Eugene V. Debs, 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.
After graduating from Long Beach High School in 1959, Foner enrolled at Columbia University, where he was originally a physics major, before switching to history after taking a year-long seminar with James P. Shenton on the Civil War and Reconstruction during his junior year. "It probably determined that most of my career has been focused on that period," he recalled years later. A year later, in 1963, Foner graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in history. He studied at the University of Oxford as a Kellett Fellow; he received a BA from Oriel College in 1965, where he was a member of the college's 1966 University Challenge winning team, though he did not appear in the final, having already returned to the US. After graduating from Oxford, Foner returned to Columbia where he earned his doctoral degree in 1969 under the supervision of Richard Hofstadter. His doctoral thesis, published in 1970 as Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War, explored the deeply rooted ideals and interests that drove the northern majority to oppose slavery and ultimately wage war against Southern secession.
Writing on the Reconstruction Era
Foner is a leading authority on the Reconstruction Era. In a seminal essay in American Heritage in October 1982, later reprinted in Reviews in American History, Foner wrote,
In the past twenty years, no period of American history has been the subject of a more thoroughgoing reevaluation than Reconstruction—the violent, dramatic, and still controversial era following the Civil War. Race relations, politics, social life, and economic change during Reconstruction have all been reinterpreted in the light of changed attitudes toward the place of blacks within American society. If historians have not yet forged a fully satisfying portrait of Reconstruction as a whole, the traditional interpretation that dominated historical writing for much of this century has irrevocably been laid to rest.
"Foner has established himself as the leading authority on the Reconstruction period," wrote historian Michael Perman in reviewing Reconstruction. "This book is not simply a distillation of the secondary literature; it is a masterly account – broad in scope as well as rich in detail and insight. "This is history written on a grand scale, a masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history," David Herbert Donald wrote in The New Republic. C. Vann Woodward, in The New York Review of Books, wrote, "Eric Foner has put together this terrible story with greater cogency and power, I believe, than has been brought to the subject heretofore."
In a 2009 essay, Foner pondered whether Reconstruction might have turned out differently.
"It is wrong to think that, during the Civil War, President Lincoln embraced a single 'plan' of Reconstruction," he wrote. "Lincoln had always been willing to work closely with all factions of his party, including the Radicals on numerous occasions. I think it is quite plausible to imagine Lincoln and Congress agreeing to a Reconstruction policy encompassing basic civil rights for blacks (as was enacted in 1866) plus limited black suffrage, along the lines he proposed just before his death."
Foner's recent short summary of his views was published in The New York Times in 2015.
Secession and the Soviet Union
As a visiting professor in Moscow in the early 1990s, Foner compared secessionist forces in the USSR with the secession movement in the US in the 1860s. In a February 1991 article, Foner noted that the Baltic states claimed the right to secede because they had been unwillingly annexed. In addition, he believed that the Soviet Union did not protect minorities while it tried to nationalize the republics. Foner identified a threat to existing minority groups within the Baltic states, who were in turn threatened by the new nationalist movements.
Popular publications and documentaries
In a New York Times op-ed, he criticized President Donald Trump's tweet calling for the preservation of Confederate monuments and heritage, stating that they represented and glorified white supremacy rather than collective heritage.
Foner has appeared frequently on popular media to discuss US history:
The professional awards which Foner has received indicate the respect given his work. Journalist Nat Hentoff described 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 The Washington Post. His work is "brilliant, important" a reviewer wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
In a review of The Story of American Freedom in the New York Review of Books, Theodore Draper disagreed with Foner's conclusions:
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 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.
Foner's most recent book Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015) was judged "Intellectually probing and emotionally resonant by the Los Angeles Times. His previous book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) was described by Library Journal as "Original and compelling. … In the vast library on Lincoln, Foner's book stands out as the most sensible and sensitive reading of Lincoln's lifetime involvement with slavery and the most insightful assessment of Lincoln's—and indeed America's—imperative to move toward freedom lest it be lost. An essential work for all Americans."
His inspirational work and comforting way of writing has led to the development of a California-based student fan club. He is revered for his educational writing.
Awards and honors
In 1989, Foner received the Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians. In 1991, Foner received 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.
Foner was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State's highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 2009 as a Bicentennial Laureate.
In 2020, Foner was awarded the Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award from the Organization of American Historians which goes to an individual or individuals whose contributions have significantly enriched our understanding and appreciation of American history.
Foner was married to screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs) from 1965 to 1977. Since 1982, he has been married to historian Lynn Garafola. They have a daughter.
Foner has frequently explored teaching moments that historians can use. He wrote, "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."
"[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."
"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."
| Booknotes interview with Foner on The Story of American Freedom, November 15, 1998, C-SPAN|
| Presentation by Foner and Joshua Brown on Forever Free, January 12, 2006, C-SPAN|
| Presentation by Foner on The Fiery Trial, October 27, 2010, C-SPAN|
| Interview with Foner on The Fiery Trial, September 24, 2011, C-SPAN|
| Presentation by Foner on The Fiery Trial, September 24, 2011, C-SPAN|
| After Words interview with Foner on Gateway to Freedom, March 21, 2015, C-SPAN|
| Presentation by Foner on Gateway to Freedom, September 30, 2015, C-SPAN|
| Presentation by Foner on The Second Founding, October 2, 2019, C-SPAN|
- Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995 . ISBN 978-0-19-509497-8. Reissued with a new preface.
- America's Black Past: A Reader in Afro-American History. New York: Harper & Row. 1970., editor
- Nat Turner. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 1971. ISBN 978-0-13-933143-5., editor
- Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press. 1976. ISBN 978-0-19-501986-5.
- Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press. 1980. ISBN 978-0-19-502781-5.
- Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1983. ISBN 978-0-8071-1118-5.
- Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: Harper & Row. 1988. ISBN 978-0-06-015851-4. Political history; and winner, in 1989, of the Bancroft Prize, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Avery O. Craven Prize, and the Lionel Trilling Prize.
- A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863–1877. New York: Harper & Row. 1990. ISBN 978-0-06-096431-3. An abridgement of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution.
- A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln. with Olivia Mahoney. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society. 1990. ISBN 978-0-393-02755-6.CS1 maint: others (link)
- The Reader's Companion to American History. ed. with John A. Garraty. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. 1991. ISBN 978-0-395-51372-9.CS1 maint: others (link), editor
- The Tocsin of Freedom: The Black Leadership of Radical Reconstruction. Gettysburg, Pa.: Gettysburg College. 1992.
- Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press. 1994. ISBN 978-0-19-952266-8.
- America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War. with Olivia Mahoney. New York: HarperPerennial. 1995. ISBN 978-0-06-055346-3.CS1 maint: others (link)
- Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (rev. ed.). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1996. ISBN 978-0-8071-2082-8.
- The New American History (rev. ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1997. ISBN 978-1-56639-551-9., editor
- The Story of American Freedom. New York: W.W. Norton. 1998. ISBN 978-0-393-04665-6.
- Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World. New York: Hill and Wang. 2002. ISBN 978-0-8090-9704-3.
- Give Me Liberty!: An American History. New York: W.W. Norton. 2004. ISBN 978-0-393-97872-8. A survey of United States history, published with companion volumes of documents.
- Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, ISBN 978-0-393-92503-6 (vol. 1), and ISBN 978-0-393-92504-3 (2 vols.).
- Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction. New York: Knopf. 2005. ISBN 978-0-375-40259-3.
- Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and his World. New York: W.W. Norton. 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06756-9., editor
- The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W.W. Norton. 2010.
- Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2015. ISBN 978-0-393-24407-6.
- Battles for Freedom: The Use and Abuse of American History. I.B. Tauris. 2017. ISBN 978-1-78453-769-2.
- The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. New York: W. W. Norton. 2019. ISBN 978-0-393-65258-1.
Some of his books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese.
- Foner, Eric (July–September 1978). "Radical Individualism in America: Revolution to Civil War". Literature of Liberty. 1 (3): 1–31.
- Foner, Eric (October–November 1983). "The New View of Reconstruction". American Heritage. 34 (6).
- Foner, Eric (Spring 1984). "Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?". History Workshop Journal. 17 (17): 57–80. doi:10.1093/hwj/17.1.57. JSTOR 4288545.
- Foner, Eric (March 1989). "The South's Inner Civil War". American Heritage. 40 (2). Archived from the original on December 18, 2013.
- Foner, Eric (January 27, 2000). "Rebel Yell". The Nation.
- Foner, Eric (September 5, 2002). "Changing History". The Nation.
- Foner, Eric (December 10, 2002). "The Century, A Nation's Eye View". The Nation.
- Foner, Eric (April 13, 2003). "Not All Freedom Is Made In America". The New York Times.
- Foner, Eric (June 2, 2003). "Dare Call It Treason". The Nation.
- Foner, Eric (June 26, 2003). "Diversity Over Justice". The Nation.
- Foner, Eric (September 6, 2004). "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World". History News Network.
- Foner, Eric (2006). "Expert Report of Eric Foner: from Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger, et al". Archived from the original on August 29, 2006.
- Foner, Eric (December 3, 2006). "He's the Worst Ever". The Washington Post. Column on George W. Bush.
- Foner, Eric (Winter 2009). "If Lincoln Hadn't Died..." American Heritage. 58 (6).
- Foner, Eric (October 10, 2011). "The Civil War in 'Postracial' America". The Nation. Archived from the original on October 1, 2011. Retrieved February 7, 2012.
- Foner, Eric (November 2012). "The Supreme Court and the history of reconstruction – and vice-versa". Columbia Law Review. Columbia Law School. 112 (7): 1585–1606. JSTOR 41708159. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. Pdf.
- Foner, Eric (January 1, 2013). "The Emancipation of Abe Lincoln". The New York Times.
- Foner, Eric, "The Corrupt Bargain" (review of Alexander Keyssar , Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? , Harvard, 2020, 544 pp., ISBN 978 0 674 66015 1; and Jesse Wegman, Let the People Pick the President: The Case for Abolishing the Electoral College, St Martin's Press, 2020, 304 pp., ISBN 978 1 250 22197 1), London Review of Books, vol. 42, no. 10 (May 21, 2020), pp. 3, 5–6. Foner concludes (p. 6): "Rooted in distrust of ordinary citizens and, like so many other features of American life, in the institution of slavery, the electoral college is a relic of a past the United States should have abandoned long ago."
- (Additional articles available at EricFoner.com)
- ^ Authors, Open Syllabus.
- ^ a b Perman, Michael. "Eric Foner's Reconstruction: A Finished Revolution". Reviews in American History, Vol. 17, No. 1. (March 1989), pp. 73–78.
- ^ "The Civil War and Reconstruction". edX. January 7, 2015. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
- ^ "Prestigious Lincoln Prize goes to Eric Foner". The Washington Post.
- ^ "Historian Foner among 3 winners of Bancroft Prize". Sify.com. March 28, 2011. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
- ^ "Eric Foner".
- ^ "Election of New Members at the 2018 Spring Meeting".
- ^ Jon Wiener, "In Memoriam: Jack D. Foner." Perspectives (April 2000) – American Historical Association
- ^ Eric Watkin, "Professor James P. Shenton '49: History's Happy Warrior", Columbia College Today 22:3 (Summer 1996).
- ^ "Columbia College Today".
- ^ Foner, Eric, "The New View Of Reconstruction," American Heritage, October/November 1983, Volume 34, Issue 6.
- ^ Columbia College Today: "Freedom Writer".
- ^ "If Lincoln Hadn't Died...", American Heritage, 2009
- ^ Foner, Eric (March 28, 2015). "Why Reconstruction Matters". The New York Times.
- ^ "Secession of Baltic States?", Eric Foner, The Nation, February 11, 1991, Volume 252
- ^ Foner, Eric. (August 21, 2017) “Confederate Statues and 'Our' History." The New York Times. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
- ^ Mansart, Tom (2000). "Books". The New Crisis.
- ^ "The Story of American Freedom: Eric Foner: 9780393319620". Retrieved June 7, 2013 – via Amazon.com.
- ^ Draper, Theodore H. (September 23, 1999). "Freedom and Its Discontents by Theodore H. Draper". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
- ^ John Patrick Diggins, "Review: Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877", The National Interest, Fall 2002
- ^ Smith, Wendy (January 8, 2015). "Review 'Gateway to Freedom' reveals underground railroad history". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 10, 2015.
- ^ The Fiery Trial. W.W. Norton & Co. September 26, 2011. ISBN 978-0-393-34066-2.
- ^ "Foner and Tsividis Given 1991 Great Teacher Awards". University Record. 17 (5). September 27, 1991.
- ^ "New York Council for the Humanities". Nyhumanities.org. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
- ^ "Laureates by Year – The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- ^ "Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award Winners". Organization of American Historians.
- ^ "Eric Foner". IMDb.
- ^ Barnard College Newscenter Archived February 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- ^ "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World" History News Network
- ^ Eric Foner, Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 2002), p. 7.
- ^ "American Freedom in a Global Age" Presidential Address to the American Historical Association annual meeting, January 2001.
- ^ Foner, Eric (April 20, 1995). Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. ISBN 978-0-19-509497-8.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1970). America's black past. ISBN 9780060421151.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1971). Nat Turner. ISBN 9780139331435.
- ^ Foner, Eric (2005). Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. ISBN 978-0-19-517486-1.
- ^ Foner, Eric (October 2, 1980). Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. ISBN 978-0-19-972708-7.
- ^ Foner, Eric (September 2007). Nothing But Freedom. ISBN 978-0-8071-3525-9.
- ^ Foner, Eric (January 10, 1990). A Short History of Reconstruction. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-096431-3.
- ^ Foner, Eric; Mahoney, Olivia (1990). A House Divided. ISBN 978-0-393-02755-6.
- ^ Foner, Eric; Garraty, John Arthur (1991). The Reader's Companion to American History. Houghton-Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-395-51372-9.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1992). "The tocsin of freedom".
- ^ Foner, Eric (1994). Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America (Inaugural Lectures) (University of Oxford). ISBN 978-0-19-952266-8 – via Amazon.com: Books.
- ^ Foner, Eric; Mahoney, Olivia (June 1, 1997). America's Reconstruction. ISBN 978-0-8071-2234-1.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1993). Freedom's Lawmakers. ISBN 978-0-19-507406-2.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1997). The New American History. ISBN 978-1-56639-552-6.
- ^ Foner, Eric (1994). The story of American freedom. ISBN 9780799215946.
- ^ Foner, Eric (April 16, 2003). Who Owns History?. ISBN 978-1-4299-2392-7.
- ^ Foner, Eric (December 1, 2005). Give Me Liberty!. ISBN 978-0-393-92782-5.
- ^ Foner, Eric (2004). Voices of Freedom. ISBN 978-0-393-92503-6.
- ^ Foner, Eric (2008). Voices of Freedom. ISBN 978-0-393-93108-2.
- ^ Foner, Eric (2005). Forever Free. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-40259-3.
- ^ Foner, Eric (2009). Our Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-393-33705-1.
- ^ Foner, Eric (September 26, 2011). The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. ISBN 978-0-393-08082-7.