Taking Back the Academy! History of Activism, History as Activism

By Jim Downs; Jennifer Manion | Go to book overview

Foreword

ERIC FONER

The chapters in this excellent volume derive from a path-breaking conference held at Columbia University in 2002 to explore the links between historical scholarship and political activism. Columbia was a most appropriate site for this event. Perhaps because of its location in New York City, the university has a long tradition of scholarly involvement in public affairs. In 1912, Columbia professors like Charles Beard and E.R.A. Seligman, helped to develop the program for Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party, which helped to establish the political and social agenda for twentieth-century liberalism. During the New Deal, A.A. Berle, Rexford Tugwell, and other Columbians became part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's group of advisers known as the Brains Trust. In the 1950s, Richard Hofstadter and C. Wright Mills, among other Columbia scholars, commented frequently and incisively on national affairs. In recent years, Columbia professors like the late Edward Said, Manning Marable, and Jeffrey Sachs have been actively involved in national and international public affairs.

Student activism also has a long history at Columbia. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, students took a prominent role in the local civil rights movement and the campaign for a ban on nuclear testing. The well-known Columbia upheaval of 1968, perhaps the pivotal moment in the university's modern history, was followed by many other examples of student activism, often forgotten today, including demonstrations against the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, the campaign in the 1980s that resulted in Columbia becoming the first Ivy League university to "divest" from South Africa, and the student hunger strike in the 1990s that led to the formation of an ethnic studies program.

As the chapters that follow demonstrate, scholarship and activism are not mutually exclusive pursuits, but, at their best, are symbiotically related.

-xi-

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