Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 James Patrick Shenton
James Patrick Shenton "I came out of a generation that got touched by fire."

James Patrick Shenton (1925–2003)
Columbia College 1949, PhD 1954
Faculty 1951–96

James Shenton was a noted historian of nineteenth-and twentieth-century America, with special expertise in the Civil War and Reconstruction; radical movements, ethnicity, and immigration; and World War II. A popular and highly regarded teacher, both of history and in Columbia College's Contemporary Civilization program, Shenton also directed the history department's summer session for many years. He served as departmental consultant, departmental representative, and University senator, and in 1965 helped to found the Double Discovery Center, a tutoring and mentoring program for low-income teens. Shenton's published works include Robert John Walker: A Politician from Jackson to Lincoln (1960), An Historian's History of the United States (1967), American Cooking: The Melting Pot (1973) and Free Enterprise Forever: Scientific American in the 19th Century (1979). He edited many books as well, notably the eight-volume Perspectives in American History. In the 1960s Shenton taught a 76-hour survey course on public television, The Rise of the American Nation.

After serving as a U.S. Army medic in Europe during World War II, Shenton entered Columbia on the G.I. Bill in 1946. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1949, his MA in 1950, and his PhD in 1954. Teaching in the history department from 1951 on, Shenton became an assistant professor in 1955, an associate professor four years later, and a full professor in 1967. Over the years, Shenton received virtually every award possible for a teacher and alumnus and was among the most requested speakers at College alumni events and reunions. He was not, however, content to sit in the ivory tower: A supporter of liberal and pacifist causes, Shenton led student expeditions to the South to help with voter-registration drives in 1964; marched in Selma, Alabama, in 1965; counseled draft resisters during the Vietnam War; and was injured during the 1968 disturbances at Columbia.

Adapted from James P. Shenton '49: Passionate History Professor (Columbia College Today, September 2003)


On Shenton's 1996 retirement


Eric Foner remembers Shenton


Alumni on Shenton


Shenton's role

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