Daniel Czitrom

Citation for 2008 Mount Holyoke College Faculty Award for Scholarship

At any hour of the day, you might see Dan Czitrom taking his long strides from the History Department in Skinner to his secret research hideaway in the Library. These are the two poles of his work on campus: to the south, his shepherding of the History Department, as a former chair and valued mentor to junior colleagues; to the north, his intensely engaged research into the history of media in America, the history of American music, and—his true obsession—the history of his native New York City.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Dan Czitrom is a New Yorker’s New Yorker. He might even be a New Yorker’s New Yorker’s New Yorker. No one alive knows more about the inner workings of the city circa 1900. Danny has pored over police records, political corruption hearings, and a million old and tattered newspapers to find the city’s true history. Students lucky enough to take his popular course on “Reading The New York Times” know just how well he knows both the city’s past history and its present moment. Danny knows its infrastructure as well; after taking his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1979, he drove a cab in New York for a year and a half.

Danny relishes collaboration; he’s a Yankees fan and a team player. A Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported his pioneering work with Bonnie Yochelson, just published this month, on the New York immigrant photographer and reformer Jacob Riis. Danny was an articulate and authoritative talking head in Ric Burns’s remarkable 1999 PBS series on New York City. With the playwright Jack Gilhooley, he has co-authored two historical dramas arising from his research. Their play “Red Bessie” about American radicalism was recently produced at the Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. It ran for 25 performances, garnering terrific audience response and great press—the TLS called it “clearheaded and humane.” Danny is a co-author of Out of Many: A History of the American People, now in its fifth edition, and among the bestselling college textbooks on U.S. history. As the success of the textbook suggests, Danny is one of the college’s most effective and powerful teachers.

Danny knows where things are. He is a demon researcher, passionate about primary research and a brilliant synthesizer of raw material. He writes in many different modes and forms. In a recent appreciation of Danny’s scholarly work on the history of media, the historian Peter Simonson wrote that Danny “kept his eyes on both details and big picture, both past realities and current concerns; and he wrote beautifully, in readily accessible prose that gives one actual pleasure to read.”

Danny is known among his historian peers as someone who marks out new fields of study rather than just plowing in fields already well established. His pioneering book on the history of American media, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan, drawn from his Ph.D. thesis, won the 1980 First Books Award of the American Historical Association. Twenty-five years later, the book is now the subject of a critical forum in the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication and a colloquium at Mount Holyoke. Danny’s article on teaching American popular music, which appeared in the American Studies Association Newsletter in September 1994, launched a whole new field and is still a key, much-cited work. We have no doubt that Danny’s current, NEH-supported book project on New York’s inner workings at the turn of the century, “Mysteries of the City,” will have a comparable impact.

Among his colleagues at Mount Holyoke, Danny is known as a wise and steady hand in the History Department and as someone to go to for counsel and advice at the start of any research project. If you have a half-formulated idea, Danny will push it into three dimensions. If you don’t know where to begin your research, Danny will suggest three archives all over the world and ten books, without looking them up. So, if you see Danny striding toward the Library, you know he’s striding back in time as well—into the past, where the secrets are buried.