Eric Foner (1943- ), an American scholar, is Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University in New York. He writes broadly on main themes of American political history, the history of republicanism as a core American political value, the early history of the Republican Party, African American biography, and historiography. Foner is a leading contemporary historian of the Reconstruction period, 1863-1877, where he takes a neoabolitionist position, writing the history from the perspective of blacks, and downplaying the corruption of the era. Although born to a family of prominent far-left historians, Foner himself is a prominent liberal slightly to the left of center in the history profession.
Foner earned his B.A., summa cum laude, from Columbia University in 1963, a second B.A. from Oriel College, Oxford in 1965, and his Ph.D. in 1969, under the tutelage of Richard Hofstadter at Columbia.
His father was historian Jack D. Foner, who had been blacklisted for his party affiliations. Foner described his father as his "first great teacher," and recalls how, "deprived of his livelihood while I was growing up, he supported our family as a freelance lecturer... . Listening to his lectures, I came to appreciate how present concerns can be illuminated by the study of the past—how the repression of the McCarthy era recalled the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the civil rights movement needed to be viewed in light of the great struggles of Black and White abolitionists, and in the brutal suppression of the Philippine insurrection at the turn of the century could be found the antecedents of American intervention in Vietnam. I also imbibed a way of thinking about the past in which visionaries and underdogs—Tom Paine, Wendell Phillips, Eugene V. Debs, and W.E.B. DuBois—were as central to the historical drama as presidents and captains of industry, and how a commitment to social justice could infuse one's attitudes towards the past."
Foner specializes in nineteenth century American history]], he served as president of the Organization of American Historians in (1993-94), and, in 2000, was president of the American Historical Association.
Eric Foner is married to Lynn Garafola, professor of dance at Barnard College and dance critic, historian, and curator. They have one daughter. He was previously married to screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal.
Foner serves on the editorial boards of Past and Present and The Nation. He has written op-ed pieces for numerous newspapers. and has appeared on television and radio talk shows. Foner contributed an essay and conversation with John Sayles in "Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies" published by the Society of American Historians in 1995. He was the on-camera historian for Freedom: A History of US on PBS in 2003.
He is the author of Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World.
Foner was the co-curator, with Olivia Mahoney, of two prize-winning exhibitions on American history: A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln, which opened at the Chicago Historical Society in 1990, and America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War, which opened at the Virginia Historical Society in 1995 and traveled to several other locations. He revised the presentation of American history at the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and has served as consultant to several National Park Service historical sites and historical museums. Foner served as an expert for the University of Michigan's defense of affirmative action in its undergraduate and law school admissions (Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger) decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
Foner is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the British Academy He has taught at Cambridge University as Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Oxford University as Harmsworth Professor of American History, and Moscow State University as Fulbright Professor. In 2007, the alumni of Columbia College voted him the John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement.
Theodore Draper regarded Foner as "one of our most distinguished historians" and "a partisan of radical sects and opinions." John Patrick Diggins wrote that Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, is, "a magisterial narrative," and, "a moving account," but characterized the historian as, "an unforgiving historian of America.".
Works by Foner
- Foner, Eric. "Radical Individualism in America: Revolution to Civil War," Literature of Liberty, vol. 1 no. 3, July/September 1978 pp 1-31 online
- "He's the Worst Ever"], Dec. 3, 2006, The Washington Post" column on George W. Bush
- "Rethinking American History in a Post-9/11 World" History News Network -- September 6 2004
- "Diversity Over Justice" The Nation - June 26 2003
- "Dare Call It Treason" The Nation - June 2 2003
- "Not All Freedom Is Made In America" The Nation April 13 2003
- "The Century, A Nation's Eye View" The Nation December 10 2002
- "Changing History" The Nation September 5 2002
- "Expert Report of Eric Foner" from Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger, et al.
- "Rebel Yell" The Nation - January 27 2000
- (Additional articles available at EricFoner.com)
- Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970, 1995).
- America's Black Past: A Reader in Afro-American History (1970) editor
- editor, Nat Turner (1971)
- Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (1976)
- America's Reconstruction: People and Politics After the Civil War (1995 with Olivia Mahoney)
- Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (1996) ISBN 0-8071-2082-0}}
- coauthor Give Me Liberty!: An American History (2004), textbook
- coauthor A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln (1990)
- editor, The New American History (1997), essays by scholars on historiography
- Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (1980), Foner's essays
- Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (1983), popular
- The Tocsin of Freedom: The Black Leadership of Radical Reconstruction (1992), pamphlet
- Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988) Political history; and winner, in 1989, of numerous prizes
- A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877 (1990) abridged version of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution.
- editor, The Reader's Companion to American History (1991)* Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America (1994)
- The Story of American Freedom (1998)
- Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2002), essays
Some of his books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese.
- Radosh, Ronald. The Left's Lion: Eric Foner's History National Review (July 10, 2002)online
- Snowman, Daniel "Eric Foner" pages 26–27 from History Today Volume 50, Issue 1, January 2000.
- EricFoner.com - Professor Foner's homepage
- Excerpt from Eric Foner essay on the film, Matewan in the book Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies edited by historian Mark C. Carnes
- VIDEO: "The Story of American Freedom: 1776-2005"- MIT SPURS/Humphrey Program sponsored lecture by Eric Foner from the series "Myths About America."
-  Expert report by Eric Foner for University of Michigan Affirmative Action cases