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Jacques Martin Barzun is a leading Franco-American historian of ideas and culture. His “reputation,” such as it is, is that of a political and social conservative and an eloquent defender of tradition in the practice of higher education and scholarship.
He obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1932, and taught history there from 1928 to 1955, becoming the Seth Low Professor of History and a founder of the discipline of cultural history. For years, he and literary critic Lionel Trilling ran Columbia’s famous Great Books course. From 1955 to 1968, he served as Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of Faculties, and Provost, while also being an Extraordinary Fellow of Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. From 1968 until his 1975 retirement, he was University Professor at Columbia. Since 1996, Barzun has resided in San Antonio, Texas.
The American Philosophical Society honors Barzun with its Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, awarded annually since 1993 to the author of a recent distinguished work of cultural history. He has also received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president. In 2003, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.