Our History

The Herbert H. Lehman Suite and Papers was founded in 1971 to serve the Columbia academic community. At its dedication, Governor Lehman's widow, Edith Altschul Lehman, expressed her desire that the new facility would become a vital and important resource for young scholars. In 2004, Columbia expanded its mission and mandate and renamed it the Herbert H. Lehman Center for the Study of American History. The new Center celebrated its opening in March 2005, and launched a series of programming exploring emerging scholarship on the American past.

As our original mission stated:

The purpose of the Herbert H. Lehman Center is to provide, in one of the greatest universities and cities in the world, a first-class center devoted exclusively to scholarship in American history. In particular, the principal goals of the Center will be to:

  1. provide a distinctive center of excellence for the study of American history and culture and especially the history of government;
  2. increase the serious use of the Herbert Lehman Archives by drawing to it on a regular basis scholars of distinction and promise;
  3. offer to scholars and writers, as well as to advanced graduate students, an opportunity to attend lectures, symposia, and conferences of high quality;
  4. strengthen the Center's relationship with the Columbia Department of History;
  5. increase the links between the Lehman Archives, its curators, and scholars around the university and the world who use its treasures;
  6. focus on those topics in which Governor Lehman had a special concern, especially the history of government and politics, the history of New York City and State, the history of discrimination and anti-Semitism, and the history of international organization.
Old Lehman Center Logo

From its founding in 2004, the Lehman Center was directed by Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor of History and a distinguished scholar of American and New York City history. He was joined by Associate Director Lisa Keller, Professor of History at SUNY-Purchase and scholar of trans-Atlantic US and British, women's, and urban history.

From 2005 to 2019, the Lehman Center hosted a wide range of seminars and lectures featuring emerging scholars and new works on diverse themes in American history.

For a list of past seminars, see the archived "Seminars and Lectures" page from our old website.

Additionally, from 2005 to 2017, the Center co-sponsored and hosted occasional conferences on themes ranging from urban history to the World War I Centennial to immigration in Europe and the Americas.

For a list of past conferences, see the archived "Conference" page from our old website.

In 2019-2020, in conjunction with a planned renovation of the Lehman Suite in the International Affairs Building and in anticipation of longtime Director Kenneth Jackson's retirement, the US faculty in the Department of History joined with Columbia University Libraries staff to re-envision the Lehman Center. In Fall 2020, the Center re-launched with an ambitious wave of programming designed to revitalize the study of US history at Columbia and engage critical contemporary issues through historical scholarship and debate.