James T. Patterson (historian)

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James T. Patterson

Patterson at the Miller Center of Public Affairs in 2013
Born (1935-02-12) February 12, 1935 (age 88)
Occupation(s)Professor, historian
ParentJ. Tyler Patterson (father)
Academic background
Alma materHarvard University
Academic work
Sub-disciplinePolitical, social, medical, educational, and legal history, as well as race relations
Notable worksSee Works

James T. Patterson (born February 12, 1935, in Old Lyme, Connecticut) is an American historian,[1] who was the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Brown University for 30 years.[2][3] He was educated at Harvard University. His research interests include political history, legal history, and social history, as well as the history of medicine, race relations, and education.[4] In 1981–1982, he was the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.[5]

Early life[edit]

Patterson was born and raised in Old Lyme, Connecticut, son of J. Tyler Patterson, a member of the Connecticut State House of Representatives who went on to serve as its speaker."[6][1] He attended the Hotchkiss School before enrolling at Williams College, where he earned a B.A. in 1957.

He then served for 6 months in the U.S. Army before taking a job at the Hartford Courant, where, he says, "I was responsible for writing 25 inches of news every day, and I learned to write quickly, using strong verbs, because I knew that the audience was made up of American adults at the breakfast table. This developed my style of writing, which seeks to be strongly narrative."[1]

In fall of 1960, Patterson entered Harvard University, earning an M.A. in 1961 and a Ph.D. in history in 1964.[3]


He started his teaching career at Indiana University, moving to Brown University in 1972 until his retirement in 2002. His first three books (1967–1972) were "straightforward political history. I had always been very interested in politics before moving to academia."

For this work Patterson received the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians (1966), two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was also the recipient of an Indiana University Teaching Award and the Ohioana Award, a book prize for his 1972 volume on Taft.[7][8]

In the 1970s, Patterson noticed a trend away from the academic writing of political history and toward an emphasis on societal issues such as race, class, and gender. In keeping with this trend, in 1987 he published The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture, chronicling the societal reaction to the disease from the 1880s to the 1980s, and exploring the social tensions and the persistence of fear caused by its specter, and how it reveals divisions in American life.

In 1997, Patterson published Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974, volume 10 of the Oxford History of the United States, covering political, cultural, and economic events of the postwar period through the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.[9] It was praised by historians and readers alike for its balanced commentary and readability. In his next four books, Patterson tackled the civil rights case of Brown v. Board of Education, the period from the Watergate era to the Bush v. Gore election of 2000, the Moynihan Report, and the seminal year 1965.

Notable quotations[edit]

"The historian helps people understand the 'pastness of the past.' We do this with thorough research from original sources. I don't believe that history can be instrumental as a guideline as to how you should act. But it will help you understand the immense variety and oddity of human nature."[1]




  1. ^ a b c d "James T. Patterson '52". The Hotchkiss School. April 2011. Archived from the original on 19 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Author and historian James T. Patterson to speak Oct. 6 | Middlebury News and Announcements". www.middlebury.edu. 27 September 2006. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  3. ^ a b "James T. Patterson". Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  4. ^ "James T. Patterson". Organization of American Historians. Archived from the original on 2015-02-11.
  5. ^ "The Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History". University of Oxford. Rothermere American Institute. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  6. ^ "Patterson, James Tyler, Jr" (PDF). Connecticut General Assembly. State of Connecticut. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  7. ^ "James T. Patterson". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 13 September 2023. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  8. ^ "Past Award Winners – Ohioana Library". Ohioana Library. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  9. ^ "Grand expectations: the United States, 1945-1974 / James T. Patterson". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  10. ^ "James T. Patterson". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation... Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  11. ^ Morin, Richard P. "Patterson is the latest in a line of Brown's Bancroft recipients". George Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2007-04-29.

External links[edit]