Empire City: New York from 1877-2001
NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop

June 24 – 30, 2012 Location: Columbia University Seminars


Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences, Columbia University, Karen Markoe, Chair of Humanities Department, Maritime College, State University of New York


American cities are in crisis. Since the end of World War II, they have lost jobs, population, and energy to the burgeoning suburbs. In contrast, cities in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia are generally thriving. Historically, Americans have not valued cities and city life, and so the current predicament of the great American metropolis is less the result of poor policy than the consequence of a culture with anti-urban traditions. In the nineteenth century, however, American cities were among the fastest growing in the world, and they boasted mass transportation, sewer and sanitation facilities, museums, universities and open spaces equal to those anywhere in the world. This seminar will focus on the intersection of history and place in one tiny spot on the map with a major role in the history of our nation. In 1624, the Dutch West India Company set up a small trading post in a huge, sheltered harbor where three rivers met and several islands offered protection against potential enemies. Three hundred years later, this small settlement at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan has grown into the center of capitalism and the largest metropolis on earth.

Please find below important information regarding the NEH Summer Landmarks Workshop.

Institute At-A-Glance

Using New York as a lens, this seminar will explore key moments in the history of the United States. In general, weekday mornings will be devoted to lectures and discussions with Professors Jackson and Markoe. Afternoons will involve field trips and time for summer scholars to work individually on the next day’s readings or teaching strategies.

Sessions will cover:

  • New York City and the Transformation of Post-Civil War America: The seminar will look at the creation of order in the metropolis as well as the development of the police and fire departments. New ways of living developed in the metropolis. Issues to be examined include the transportation revolution, the rise of the penny press, the development of the apartment building, the creation of the department store, the beginnings of suburbanization, and the evolution of new forms of entertainment.
  • The Immigrant Metropolis: Though no city attracted as many newcomers as New York, most immigrants did not find the prosperity of which they dreamed, and in no city anywhere were they as crowded into such inadequate tenements. The seminar will explore why such conditions developed and the methods reformers used to alleviate them.
  • Wealth and Power: Some of America’s greatest and most powerful corporations, such as U.S. Steel, were created in New York. The seminar will explore American industry and finance, focusing on New York as a magnet for industrial leaders and entrepreneurs such as Henry Clay Frick, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, F.W. Woolworth, and Jay Gould.
  • Black Metropolis: Every great Northern and Midwestern city saw the influx tens of thousands of African Americans from 1890 to 1970. In New York, Harlem became the unofficial capital of Black America by 1930, and the five boroughs came to be home to more African Americans than any other place in the United States. The seminar will look at civil rights, music, literature, and politics to explore how New York witnessed and encouraged the development of new attitudes about race.
  • Post-Industrial New York: The transformation of the American economy since World War II has had a dramatic impact upon the nation. The seminar will use New York, the world’s leading manufacturing city and its busiest port until the mid-1950s, to examine this phenomenon. Those pillars of the local economy collapsed in the second half of the twentieth century, and the metropolis was declining and virtually bankrupt by the mid-1970s. The revival of Gotham, however, and its transformation to a service economy, led the way in the larger transformation of the American economy.

Empire City: New York from 1877 to 2001 will feature regular lectures and discussions of important themes led by Professors Kenneth Jackson and Karen Markoe. Trips to landmarks will illuminate themes introduced by Professors Jackson and Markoe. Throughout the week, Summer Scholars will interpret historical evidence—in the form of historic sites and artifacts as well as primary source documents—that will be used to build more complex understanding of important issues in American history.

Participants will be engaged and challenged intellectually, with myriad opportunities for exploring New York City history. Examining what has been for generations the business, financial, publishing, fashion and cultural capital of the country will energize participants to reflect on American history and carry their knowledge and reflections into their classrooms. Another component of Empire City is the completion of a project based on the content discussed and the materials provided during the Institute. Summer scholars will be expected to begin work on this during the seminar and will have time during the week to share ideas and work individually or with others.


Readings are sent by the Institute to participants of the seminar. Readings MAY include:

  • Freeman, Joshua B. Working Class New York: Life and Labor since World War II. New York: The New York Press, 2011.
  • Jackson, Kenneth T. , David Dunbar, eds. Empire City: New York Through the Centuries. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. New York: Penguin Books, 1920.

Travel & Accomodations

In the interest of collegiality, we strongly encourage all NEH Summer Scholars to stay at Barnard College where a group of rooms will be reserved. Those who wish to bring a spouse or family will need to seek alternate housing. Barnard provides private dormitory rooms with shared bathroom facilities. The university provides bedding and towels only, and participants should plan to bring fans, alarm clocks, shampoo, hangers, irons, hair dryers, etc. Telephones in each room will require a calling card for outside calls, and use of internet in the rooms will require an Ethernet cable. Participants will have access to computer labs, but many choose to bring laptops. Every floor has a lounge and a full kitchen, but participants may also eat in the on-campus dining hall, a cafeteria-style space shared by other programs.

Barnard estimates that room and board for the one-week stay will be approximately $550. Since Gilder Lehrman will need to reserve the Barnard rooms in advance, those who stay at Barnard will have this charge deducted from their stipend. Those who plan to partake of the campus meal plan will have this charged deducted from their stipend as well. The program will also include some working meals at various historical restaurants throughout New York City. More details on these items will be sent out upon acceptance.

Because of the site-based nature of this seminar, the program will rely heavily on walking tours, which take place rain or shine. New York City summers can be very hot and humid; we strongly recommend that participants bring sturdy walking shoes, sunscreen, and a water bottle.

There are several options for traveling to and from Columbia University and Barnard College. LaGuardia Airport is the closest to the campus; a taxicab ride is about $30.00 (including a 15% tip), and the M60 city bus goes directly from LaGuardia to the campus every half hour for $2.25 (change only). For visitors arriving at any area airport (including Newark International Airport), shuttle bus service is available to the Port Authority Bus Terminal or to Grand Central Station. The Columbia Universityand Barnard College websites also provide detailed driving directions.

We are sorry but we are unable to accommodate family and friends in on-campus accommodations at the Workshop, and no guests may sit in on any lectures or attend field trips.


Participants are awarded a $1,200 stipend at the end of the workshop to support travel, and room and board for the workshop. Stipends are taxable. Institute participants are required to attend all meetings and to engage fully in the work of the project. Participants who, for any reason, do not complete the full tenure of the project will receive a reduced stipend.

At the end of the project’s residential period, participants will be asked to submit online evaluations in which they review their work during the summer and assess its value to their personal and professional development.

Graduate credit

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is proud to announce its agreement with Adams State College to offer three hours of graduate credit in American history to participating seminar teachers for an additional fee. Teachers who choose to take advantage of this are required to submit a reaction paper and a copy of one primary source activity completed during or immediately after the seminar.

Teachers will also be given an opportunity to take additional online and distance coursework that counts toward an MA in History from Adams State College.

To enroll and to learn more about the course description.
For more details, please contact: Edward R. Crowther, Ph.D.

To ensure that your credit appears on your transcript as summer-term class work, you must enroll by August 3, 2012.

NEH guidelines and general information

Equal Opportunity Statement: Endowment programs do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, or age. For further information, write to NEH Equal Opportunity Officer, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20506. TDD: 202/606-8282 (This is a special telephone device for the Deaf.)

NEH Principles of Civility

The Endowment’s Seminars, Institutes, and Workshops are intended to extend and deepen knowledge and understanding of the humanities by focusing on significant topics, texts, and issues; contribute to the intellectual vitality and professional development of participants; and foster a community of inquiry that provides models of excellence in scholarship and teaching.

NEH expects that project directors will take responsibility for encouraging an ethos of openness and respect, upholding the basic norms of civil discourse.

Seminar, Institute, and Workshop presentations and discussions should be:

(1) firmly grounded in rigorous scholarship, and thoughtful analysis;
(2) conducted without partisan advocacy;
(3) respectful of divergent views;
(4) free of ad hominem commentary; and
(5) devoid of ethnic, religious, gender or racial bias.

The NEH welcomes comments, concerns, or suggestions on these principles at [email protected].

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


E-mail [email protected]



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