Berkin, Carol (Ruth) 1942-

views updated

BERKIN, Carol (Ruth) 1942-

PERSONAL: Born October 1, 1942, in Mobile, AL; daughter of Saul (a businessman) and Marian (a bookkeeper; maiden name, Goldreich) Berkin; married John Paull Harper (a dean of curriculum), June 21, 1970 (divorced); children: two. Education: Barnard College, A.B., 1964; Columbia University, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1972. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—118 West 79th St., Apt. 14B, New York, NY 10024. Office—Department of History, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York, 365 5th Ave., New York, NY 10016. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Editorial assistant for "Papers of Alexander Hamilton," New York, NY, 1964; Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, NY, lecturer in history, 1968; member of editorial staff for "Papers of John Jay," New York, NY, 1972; City University of New York, assistant professor, 1972-75, associate professor, 1975-81, professor of history at Bernard M. Baruch College, 1981—, member of university graduate faculty, 1982—.

MEMBER: American Antiquarian Society (fellow), American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians (member of bicentennial celebration committee, 1975—), Coordinating Committee for Women in the Historical Profession, Smithsonian Institution, Essex Institute, New York Historical Society, Columbia University Seminar in Early American History and Culture.

AWARDS, HONORS: Bancroft Award from Bancroft Foundation and Columbia University, 1972, for doctoral dissertation on Jonathan Sewall; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1974; American Council of Learned Societies grant, 1975, study fellowship, 1978; City University of New York Research Foundation grant, 1975; American Association of University Women fellowship, 1978.


Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1974.

Within the Conjurer's Circle: Women in ColonialAmerica (pamphlet), General Learning Press (New York, NY), 1974.

(Compiler) Women in the American Revolution, Grossman (New York, NY), 1975.

(Contributor) The American Revolution: ChangingPerspectives, edited by William M. Fowler, Jr. and Wallace Coyle, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1979.

Land of Promise: A History of the United States, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1982.

(With Leonard Wood) National Treasures: SourceReadings for Land of Promise, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1984.

(With John Patrick) History of the American Nation, two volumes, Scribner Educational Publishers (New York, NY), 1986.

(With Joe B. Frantz and Joan Schreiber ) AmericaYesterday and Today, Scott, Foresman (Glenview, IL), 1988.

First Generations: Women in Colonial America, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 1996.

American Colonial History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

(With others) Making America: A History of the UnitedStates, instructor's annotated edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, 2nd edition, 1999, 3rd edition, 2003.

A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Betty S. Anderson) The History Handbook Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.


(With Mary Beth Norton) Women of America: A History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1979.

(With Clara M. Lovett) Women, War, and Revolution, Holmes & Meier, 1980.

(With Leslie Horowitz) Women's Voices, Women'sLives: Documents in Early American History, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1998.

(With others) Encyclopedia of American Literature, Facts on File (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: The role of women in America's past is the forte of historian Carol Berkin. Her 1996 volume, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, was widely reviewed. "Inspired" was the term used by Billie Barnes Jensen of History. Covering the variety of races, religions, and social classes that comprised the women of early America, Berkin used the technique of profiling in each chapter an individual woman whose "life exemplifies in some way the theme of the narrative," as Jensen noted. Some of the author's subjects are such well-known historical figures as Hannah Duston and Eliza Lucas Pinckney; others, including a slave known only as Mary, are relatively anonymous—"yet the lessons of their lives are no less significant," Jensen stated.

In an article for the Journal of Social History, Jacquelyn Miller pointed to Berkin's chapters on the elite classes of the early eighteenth century. The women in these fortunate positions had access to goods and luxuries unheard-of by most of their colonial and indentured sisters who faced a much more demanding struggle to survive. Yet the growth of consumerism in the upper classes "did not necessarily mean expanded independence for women," wrote Miller. "In fact, Berkin argues that the social conventions of gentility placed additional burdens on women's time and energy, while at the same time giving them little control over the wealth of their society." Wealthy or not, the author concluded, "women of all sorts were united in their dependence on men for their economic status." While C. Dallett Hemphill of the Historian felt that the author "is not wholly consistent" in her presentation of controversial issues, the critic also acknowledged that First Generations "remains a clear and engaging overview."

Berkin explored another aspect of history with her 2002 release, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution. In the years following the Revolutionary War of 1776, the new country faced economic, military, and political challenges. When James Madison, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and their peers convened the first Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia during the sweltering summer of 1787, anxieties ran high. Small states complained of manipulation by the bigger states; "a few nationalists fretted about America's international impotence," as Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor put it. A Publishers Weekly reviewer emphasized that "the framers saw the Constitution as a working document, one that would require revision as the country grew." In the same piece, the author was praised for her novelistic approach, "capturing the human dimensions" of the historic convention. Thomas Karel of Library Journal wrote, "With this concise and masterly book, Berkin joins the upper ranks of popular historians."

Carol Berkin once told CA: "My primary focus in my work has been to examine the personalities of men or women life style, ideology, or career patterns have placed them on the 'losing side' or out of the mainstream. Thus, the American Loyalists, for whom, in many ways, the world was turned upside down; thus, also, the study of American women who have always been outsiders as the 'second sex' in our history. Recently it has been noted that, 'while the patriots won the revolution, the Loyalists seem to be winning the bicentennial' because of the many sympathetic studies of these men and women in the 1960's and 70's. Perhaps with the new and exciting examination of women in our past, being done by so many able scholars today, it will also be said that women lost many struggles for equality, but they are winning a sense of their past."



American Historical Review, February, 1998, review of First Generations: Women in Colonial America, p. 274.

Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, spring, 1998, review of First Generations, p. 227.

Booklist, September 15, 1996, Kathleen Hughes, review of First Generations, p. 185; August, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, p. 1914.

Bookwatch, January, 1997, review of First Generations, p. 3; August, 1998, review of Women's Voices, Women's Lives: Documents in Early American History, p. 2; September, 1998, review of Women's Voices, Women's Lives, p. 4.

Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, September 17, 2002, Gary Rosen, review of A Brilliant Solution, p. 2.

Choice, September, 1987, review of Women ofAmerica: A History, p. 68.

Come-All-Ye, fall, 1998, review of Women's Voices,Women's Lives, p. 1.

Historian, fall, 1998, C. Dallett Hemphill, review of First Generations, p. 150.

History: Review of Books, fall, 1997, Billie Barnes Jensen, review of First Generations, p. 15.

Journal of American History, September, 1997, Lee Chambers-Schiller, review of First Generations, p. 621.

Journal of Social History, spring, 1998, Jacquelyn Miller, review of First Generations, p. 733.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1996, review of First Generations, p. 937.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, September, 1998, review of Women's Voices, Women's Lives, p. 34.

Library Journal, September 15, 1996, Dorothy Lilly, review of First Generations, p. 78; August, 2002, Cynthia Johnson, review of A Brilliant Solution, p. 76; Thomas A. Karel, review of A Brilliant Solution, p. 114.

New York Review of Books, October 31, 1996, Edmund Morgan, review of First Generations, p. 66.

New York Times Book Review, September 15, 2002, Gary Rosen, "A Design for Living," review of A Brilliant Solution, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1996, review of FirstGenerations, p. 61; June 24, 2002, review of A Brilliant Solution, p. 49.

Seventeenth-Century News, fall, 1998, review of FirstGenerations, p. 141.

William and Mary Quarterly, July, 1998, Catherine Clinton, review of First Generations, p. 444.

Women's Review of Books, December, 1996, Joni Adamson Clarke, review of First Generations, p. 26.

About this article

Berkin, Carol (Ruth) 1942-

Updated About content Print Article