Allan Nevins

Allan Nevins

Nevins, Allan, 1890-1971, American historian, b. Camp Point, Ill. After studying at the Univ. of Illinois, he followed a career in journalism until 1927. Teaching at Columbia from 1928, he became a full professor in 1931 and was made De Witt Clinton professor of American history in 1942. He retired in 1958, becoming a senior research associate of the Huntington Library. Nevins, one of the most prolific U.S. historians of the 20th cent., is noted for the exhaustive research and comprehensive treatment that characterize his wide range of historical writings. His masterful political biographies include Grover Cleveland (1932) and Hamilton Fish (1936), both of which won Pulitzer Prizes; Frémont: Pathmarker of the West (1939); and Herbert H. Lehman and His Era (1963). In works on the economic giants of America, among them Abram S. Hewitt (1935) and Study in Power: John D. Rockefeller (rev. ed. 1953), Nevins pointed out the role of the captains of industry in making America a world power. The Ordeal of the Union (1947-60), Nevins's six-volume history of the Civil War era from 1847 through 1863, is a comprehensive narrative of the age, covering social, economic, and political aspects. Among many other notable works are Illinois (1917), a history of the state university; The Evening Post (1922), an early work in the history of journalism; The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789 (1924), a valuable study of change in this period; The Emergence of Modern America, 1865-1878 (1927), a social history; and The Gateway to History (1938, rev. ed. 1962), an introduction to historiography. The many papers edited by Nevins include the diaries of Philip Hone (1927), John Quincy Adams (1928), James K. Polk (1929), and George Templeton Strong (1952), as well as the letters of Grover Cleveland (1933). Nevins also established the Columbia oral history program, the first of its kind in the nation.
Allan Nevins (May 20, 1890 - March 5, 1971) was an American historian and journalist.

Nevins earned an M.A. in English in 1913 from the University of Illinois. He worked as a journalist in New York City and began writing books on history. Nevins was appointed Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University in 1931, two years after he joined the faculty there. He was later appointed Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University from 1940 to 1941 and again from 1964 to 1965. In 1948 he created the first oral history program to operate on an institutionalized basis in the U.S. which continues as Columbia University's Oral History Research Office.

Nevins wrote more than 50 books, mainly political and business history and biography of the 19th century, in addition to his many newspaper and academic articles. The subjects of his biographies include Grover Cleveland, Abram Hewitt, Hamilton Fish, Henry Ford, John C. Frémont, Herbert Lehman, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry White. The biographies provide in-depth coverage of United States political, economic and diplomatic history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In most cases (Fish, Cleveland, Ford) they remain unequalled.

Nevins' greatest work was Ordeal of the Union (1947-71), an 8-volume comprehensive history of the coming of the Civil war, and the war itself. It remains the most detailed political, economic and military narrative of the era.

Nevins' biography of Grover Cleveland won the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. He also added significantly to the scholarship on President Cleveland by publishing a volume of Cleveland's correspondence from 1850-1908.

His biographer explains the Nevins style:

Nevins used narrative not only to tell a story but to propound moral lessons. It was not his inclination to deal in intellectual concepts or theories, like many academic scholars. He preferred emphasizing practical notions about the importance of national unity, principled leadership, liberal politics, enlightened journalism, the social responsibility of business and industry, and scientific and technical progress that added to the cultural improvement of humanity.

Nevins wrote several books on John D. and the Rockefeller family, said business journalist Ferdinand Lundberg:

It was in the course of doing work for the five Rockefeller books that Nevins developed the interesting thesis that the American corporate adventurers to whom Matthew Josephson gave the enduring name of ‘The Robber Barons’ were in fact American heroes, builders of the American civilization and democracy. He invited other historians to follow in his footsteps in this thesis, but so far nobody has conspicuously accepted. And if anyone does, one will be able to see the American intellectual horizon further muddled. I have given writers like Nevins the sobriquet of ‘counter-savants’. A savant, or man of learning, is devoted to increasing knowledge. And knowledge has the function of deepening understanding. A counter-savant, however, is a man of knowledge who uses his knowledge, for reasons known only to himself, to obfuscate understanding, to confuse readers. The fact is that Nevins’ corrective portrait of Rockefeller is not only false with respect to the central character, but frustrates understanding with the unsophisticated reader. (The Rockefeller Syndrome, New York: Lyle Stuart, 1975, p. 145.)

Nevins wrote the foreword to the inaugural edition of Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy.


On radio, Nevins was the host of the 15-minute Adventures in Science, which covered a wide variety of medical and scientific topics. As a segment of CBS' Adult Education Series, it was broadcast from May 6, 1938 until August 18, 1957, airing on various days, usually in the late afternoon.

Major books

  • The Evening post; a century of journalism (1922)
  • The American states during and after the revolution, 1775-1789 (1927) online edition
  • A History of American Life vol. VIII: The Emergence of Modern America 1865-1878 (1927)
  • Frémont, the West's greatest adventurer; being a biography from certain hitherto unpublished sources of General John C. Frémont, together with his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont, and some account of the period of expansion which found a brilliant leader in the Pathfinder (1928) online edition
  • Polk; the diary of a president, 1845-1849, covering the Mexican war, the acquisition of Oregon, and the conquest of California and the Southwest, (1929)
  • Henry White; thirty years of American diplomacy (1930)
  • Letters of Grover Cleveland, 1850-1908; (1933)
  • Dictionary of American Biography (1934-36); Nevins wrote 40 articles on Alexander Hamilton, Rutherford B. Hayes, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, etc.
  • Abram S. Hewitt: with same account of Peter Cooper. (1935)
  • Hamilton Fish; the inner history of the Grant administration, (1936) online edition vol 1 online edition vol 2
  • The Gateway to History 1938. online edition
  • The emergence of modern America, 1865-1878 (1941)
  • Ordeal of the Union (1947-1971).
    • 1. Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852;
    • 2. A House Dividing, 1852-1857;
    • 3. Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos, 1857-1859;
    • 4. Prologue to Civil War, 1859-1861;
    • 5. The Improvised War, 1861-1862;
    • 6. War Becomes Revolution, 1862-1863;
    • 7. The Organized War, 1863-1864;
    • 8. The Organized War to Victory, 1864-1865
  • Ford with the collaboration of Frank Ernest Hill, 3 vols. (1954-1963)
  • John D. Rockefeller: The Heroic Age of American Enterprise. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (1940)
  • Study In Power: John D. Rockefeller, Industrialist and Philanthropist. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. (1953)


  • Gerald L. Fetner, Immersed in Great Affairs: Allan Nevins and the Heroic Age of American History (2004)

Search another word or see allan nevinson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature