Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Allan Nevins
Allan Nevins "Instead of dissecting impersonal forces … the historian should narrate the past in terms of living men and women seen as individuals, groups, or communities; and he should give due emphasis to personal motivation and initiative."

Allan Nevins (1890-1971)
Faculty 1928-58
LittD 1960 (hon.)

Wedding the craft of journalism to rigorous scholarship, Nevins wrote more than fifty books and scores of articles during his career, which spanned nearly three-quarters of the twentieth century. His output included the eight-volume history of the Civil War, Ordeal of the Union, written over a period of more than twenty years, and two Pultizer Prize-winning biographies, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (1933) and Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration (1937).

After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in English at the University of Illinois, Nevins moved to New York in 1913, writing for the New York Evening Post and New York World. His historical work led to an appointment to Columbia's history faculty in 1928 and he was named DeWitt Clinton Professor of History in 1939, succeeding his former teacher, mentor, and colleague, the historian Evarts Greene. Nevins cultivated a group of dedicated graduate students, brought in outstanding historians such as Henry Steele Commager and Dumas Malone, and convinced the historians Frederic Bancroft and James Truslow Adams to deposit their papers in the Columbia Libraries. In 1958, Nevins retired from Columbia to become senior research associate at California's Huntington Library. He used the royalties from his books to endow a Columbia chair in his name, the occupants of which have included the economic historian Stuart Bruchey and Columbia's current Provost, the historian Alan Brinkley. Another of his legacies to Columbia is the Oral History Research Office. Established in 1948, it was the first program of its kind in the nation. It now consists of almost 8,000 taped memoirs and nearly 1,000,000 pages of transcript, and is the oldest and largest organized oral history program in the world. Nevins donated his personal papers to Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a collection that includes some 12,000 letters, many that he exchanged with prominent world figures.

Contributed by Gerald L. Fetner, author of Immersed in Great Affairs: Allan Nevins and the Heroic Age of American History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004).

Read more about Allan Nevins in the Columbia Encyclopedia.


Founded by Nevins in 1948


Nevins's personal papers are housed at Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library


The first full-length biography of Nevins, written by a former Columbian

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