History stars in the house for Columbia history department fundraiser

Historians in the News

The topic for the evening's talk—"Empire City: Will New York Remain the Capital of the World in the 21st Century?"—would have been relevant to anyone who considers himself a New Yorker, but it seemed especially so given the well-heeled crowd.

The person assigned to answer the question was Kenneth T. Jackson, a former president of the New-York Historical Society and the Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University. And the 40 or so people who were eager to get the answer, including Howard Levi, an attorney and the friend who invited me, were members of the Columbia history department's Board of Visitors, mostly successful business people and lawyers who contribute $5,000 a year (though there's obviously nothing preventing them from giving more) to support the department's activities and to enjoy the privilege, several times a semester, of having some of the university's top history stars—among them Alan Brinkley, Fritz Stern and Mr. Jackson—come to their homes to chat about their fields of expertise and their latest books.

"I read a lot of history," said Jonathan Freedman ('78), who, with his wife Aimee, had surrendered their Upper East Side duplex for the evening's gathering. "I love having these people talk about their new books and what's going on in the world of history. It's very hard" to keep up, "unless you're reading the scholarly journals."

Mark Mazower, the current chairman of the Columbia history department, said he got the impression that fund raising at the department rather than the university level was unusual. "We listen to these guys about who they'd like to hear speak," he explained. "It's been a great boon for us."...

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