Winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize, Lane was born in 1934, raised in New England, and graduated from Yale (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa). He took a graduate seminar with Richard Hofstader at Columbia, then briefly taught and coached at The Brunswick School before earning a PhD from Harvard in 1963, the year he began teaching at Haverford.
His study of Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1885, (Harvard Univ. Press, 1967) was the first to trace the origins of modern urban police. During the crime and assassination-ridden 1960s, a 1968 article in the Journal of Social History, “Urbanization and Criminal Violence in the 19th Century,” challenged the then-conventional wisdom that crime naturally increases as cities grow, This earned him appointment to the President’s Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, which reprinted it. (It also won the attention of Theodore Kaczynski, later infamous as “The Unabomber,” who gave it his own twist, quoting it extensively in his 1995 “Manifesto,” which gave Lane a small role in his identification and capture)
Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in 19th Century Philadelphia, (Harvard Univ. Press, 1979), showed how the educational and behavioral demands of factory and office diminished the external manifestations of aggression while increasing the internal. Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900, (Harvard Univ. Press, 1986), winner of the Bancroft Prize as one of that year’s two best books in American history, focused on the way exclusion from industrial and white collar jobs pushed many African Americans into dangerous criminal entrepreneurship. William Dorsey’s Philadelphia and Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America, (Oxford Univ. Press, 1991) winner of the Urban History Association’s Best Book Award, shows how this effect blighted a promising post-Civil War golden age in the biggest and best educated African American population in the North. Murder in America, a History, (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1997) traced violent behavior from its medieval English origins into the late 20th Century.
Lane won several teaching awards, and was named by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1987 as one of the “Ten Top Profs” in the metropolitan area. A small college allowed him offer to satisfy his curiosity through courses beyond his scholarly specialities, not simply surveys of “Western Civilization” and “American History” but e,g. “Southern Intellectual History,” “History of Violence,” “The Civil War”, “Immigration,” “Researching Philadelphia,” “Historiography” and “History of the Family.”
He has appeared in many television documentaries, on ethnic history, crime, policing, guns, and the history of murder both general and specific.
Lane has three children and three grandchildren. Living in Haverford, PA, with his wife Marjorie Merklin, he has been active in civic life, especially in the local African-American community. Interests include sports and music, lecturing on political and social history, reading bad, good, and great books, and tutoring both children and adults.
- 1987 Bancroft Prize
- 1992 Urban History Association's award.
- Policing the City: Boston 1822-1885, Harvard University Press, (1967).
- Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in 19th Century Philadelphia. Harvard University Press. 1979. ISBN 978-0-674-93946-2.
- Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia. Harvard University Press. 1986. ISBN 978-0-674-77978-5.
- William Dorsey's Philadelphia Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America. Oxford University Press. 1991. ISBN 978-0-19-506566-4.
- Murder in America: A History. Ohio State University Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-8142-0732-1.
- "Murder, Mayhem and Mystery: It's All Elemental, 'Dear Reader' in Roger Lane's New Book ", Haverford News
- "What Do Historians Have to Say About Violence?", HFG Review, Jeffrey S. Adler and Thomas W. Gallant
- PETER APPLEBOME (May 29, 1999). What Murder Says About the Society It Exists In. The New York Times.