Jefferson Cowie recently joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University, where he moved after teaching at Cornell University for eighteen years. At Vanderbilt, he holds the James G. Stahlman Chair in the Department of History. His work in social and political history focuses on how class, inequality, and labor shape American politics and culture.
The Nation magazine described Jefferson Cowie as “one of our most commanding interpreters of recent American experience.” His most recent book, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics was released in early 2016 and attempts to reinterpret a wide swath of the American political history in the twentieth century. Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, draws together labor, politics, and popular culture into a vibrant narrative about the decline of class in American political culture. It received a number of “best book” awards, including two of the profession’s most prestigious: the 2011 Francis Parkman Prize for the Best Book in American History and the Merle Curti Award for the Best Book in Social and Intellectual History.
The noted Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne wrote that “Stayin’ Alive will long stand as the finest and most sophisticated portrait of politics and culture in the American 1970s, and also as a model for how to talk about both political and cultural transformations without shortchanging either.” Joan Walsh at Salon.com called “one of the best books of 2010,” and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer found it “an engrossing new book” by a writer with “an ear for the power and poetry of vernacular speech.”
Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy Year Quest for Cheap Labor charts the relocation of one firm through four different cities, two countries, and a great deal of social upheaval. It accounts for what made each community attractive for an industrial location and what changed to make the company relocate again. The book received the 2000 Phillip Taft Prize for the Best Book in Labor History, and was hailed by Michael Kazin as “a conceptually rich and deeply humane book [by] a rare historian who illuminates the future by explaining a vital part of the past.”
In addition to his scholarship, Cowie’s essays and opinion pieces have also appeared in the New York Times, TIME magazine, Foreign Affairs, Chronicle of Higher Ed, American Prospect, Politico, Democracy, The New Republic, Inside Higher Ed, Dissent, and other popular outlets. The recipient of several fellowships, including the American Council of Learned Societies and Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the Society for the Humanities at Cornell, he has also appeared in a variety of media outlets including CNN’s The Seventies, C‐Span’s Booknotes, NPR’s Weekend Edition, as well as documentaries, podcasts, and radio broadcasts.
Cowie is a passionate and dedicated educator, garnering a number of teaching awards during his career. From 2008 to 2012, he served as the first House Professor and Dean of William Keeton House on Cornell’s innovative West Campus where he lived with his family and over three hundred undergraduates.
Asked about his influences, he names to scholars such as Leon Fink, Jacquelyn Hall, John D. French, and Charles Bergquist. Other, less obvious, influences include his father’s working life as a high school custodian, his mother’s creativity, fifties jazz, Stax-Volt soul, Bob Dylan, James Baldwin, Bruce Springsteen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Steinbeck, The Clash, John Dewey, the Dead Kennedys, Deep Springs College, and almost everyone he shared a climbing rope throughout the mountains of North America. Above all, he points to raising his kids as the most important experience of his life.
Raised in the Midwest, he was educated at UC Berkeley, UNC Chapel Hill, and his time climbing in the mountain ranges of the world.Download a Complete C.V. Download Autobiographical Reflections