Our Past Engaged: Four Turning Points in Columbia's Recent History  

April 7, 13, 20, and 27, 2004
Low Rotunda
Morningside Campus

Distinguished historians, invited respondents, and audience members examine important and contentious aspects of Columbia's past, issues of both historical significance and contemporary relevance.

Series Moderator: Robert McCaughey, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of History, Barnard College, and author of Stand Columbia

Read a Word from the Series Moderator

Alama Mater
Columbia University's history dates back to two decades before the American Revolution. Founded in 1754 as King's College, with a charter from King George II, it was the first institution of higher learning in New York and the fifth in the 13 British colonies. The Loyalist leanings of its largely Anglican constituency and the protracted British occupation of New York City, during which the college building was commandeered as a military hospital, very nearly killed the institution. Even upon its rechartering in 1784, and notwithstanding its own revolutionary leaders, the now-republicanized Columbia College for several decades thereafter cut a modest figure as a commuting college for New York City boys and a supplier of local professional and commercial leadership. Into the 1850s Columbia College was not much bigger than it had been in the 1790s. Only in the second half of the nineteenth century did Columbia begin to acquire the size, wealth, and prominence that by the first decade of the twentieth century made it the largest, richest, and most intellectually ambitious university in the country. Indeed, in its academic comprehensiveness, its meritocratic inclusiveness, and its secular ethos, Columbia had become America's first modern university.

It is this modern era in which Columbia's present character is already delineated that is the focus of this four-part symposium, "Our Past Engaged: Four Turning Points in Columbia's Recent History." Each of the talks will take up an important and contentious issue that has both historical significance and contemporary relevance, as well as relevance for American higher education generally. The format for each evening invites debate. Each session will feature a principal speaker who brings to the subject at hand both a scholarly competence and a personal association, even as the discussants bring to the session a different experiential, ideological, or generational perspective. Their comments, both volunteered and elicited by the symposium moderator, will then be followed by a more general discussion in which the audience is expected to engage the issues.

Schedule

Click on the speakers' names below to access their biographies.

Each program will be followed by a reception.

The University and the City: Columbia and New York from the Civil War to the Progressive Era
  • April 7, 2004, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Low Rotunda
  • Keynote Speaker: Professor Kenneth T. Jackson
Columbia at Midcentury: The Intellectual Capital of the Nation?
  • April 13, 2004, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Low Rotunda
  • Keynote Speaker: University Provost Alan Brinkley
Beyond the Knickerbockers: Inclusive Columbia
  • April 20, 2004, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Low Rotunda
  • Keynote Speaker: Professor Rosalind Rosenberg
Columbia '68: A Chapter in the History of Student Power
  • April 27, 2004, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Low Rotunda
  • Keynote Speaker: Professor Robert McCaughey
For more information, see the program schedule.

Video Archive
View video highlights of the symposium and a transcript of the proceedings.
Executive Summary
Précis of the Proceedings
Highlights
Quotations from the keynote speakers.
Keynote Speaker Bios
View.
Image Gallery
View.
Women at Columbia
View the timeline.
Columbia College Life Student Timeline
View the timeline.
Columbia University and the City of New York
View the timeline.
Columbia and Higher Learning in America
View the timeline.
Stand, Columbia
The first single-volume interpretive history of the University in 100 years.
Write Columbia's History
Columbia's history, as seen by those who have studied, taught, and worked here.
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