Roy Rosenzweig

Roy Alan Rosenzweig

(Source: Library of Congress)
Born: August 6, 1950
Died: October 11, 2007
Famous Works: Major Achivements & Awards: Literary Movement: Digital History


Roy Rosenzweig, the Mark and Barbara Fried Chair and College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History and Cultural Studies was a social, public, and digital historian at George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia. He was a pioneer in digital history, incorporating new digital media and technology with history to explore new possibilities to reach a larger and diverse public audience and the founding director of the Center for History and New Media. Rosenzweig gave a voice for the working class and promoted for a democratic understanding of people's history.

Rosenzweig was born on August 6, 1950 in New York City and grew up in the bayside area of Queens playing stickball.1 He attended Francis Lewis High School and graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 1971. After graduation, He married Beth Bernick Rosenzweig which later ended with divorce. He received the Kellet Fellowship in 1971 and worked as a research student in history at St John’s College at Cambridge University until 1973. He went on to receive his doctorate in history from Harvard University in 1978.

He then became an Assistant Professor of History and Humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, until 1980, when Rosenzweig became a Mellon post-doctoral fellow in the Center for the Humanities in Wesleyan University, Connecticut.

In 1981, Rosenzweig joined the history faculty as an Assistant Professor at George Mason University, Virginia. He earned full professorship in 1992.2

In 1983, He published Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920. Rosenzweig examines the rise of urban leisure in the working class of America during the late nineteenth and early twenties century with a detailed case study of Worcester Massachusetts. He recounts the social history of the struggles of the ethnically divided working class to maintain control of their life outside of the factories from a united class of industrial elites. Working class culture and class relations in industrial cities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are given insight with the examination of the rise of saloons, public parks, playgrounds and the commercialization of leisure with advent amusement parks and movie theaters. 14

Rosenzweig coauthored The Park and the People: A History of Central Park with E. Blackmar, published in 1992. The study of the history of New York City’s Central Park earned the 1993 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1993 Urban History Association Prize for Best Book on North American Urban History.

Rosenzweig received the Guggenheim Fellowship, which he held from 1989 to 1990.

In 1994, He co-created the CD-ROM, Who Built America? with Nelson Lichtenstein and Susan Strasser. The CD-ROM helped to start the field of digital history and won the 1994 James Harvey Robinson Prize of American Historical Association for an Outstanding Teaching Aid as “the most outstanding contribution to the teaching of history in any field.”

In the same year, Rosenzweig founded the Center for History and New Media, part of George Mason University’s department of history and art history. The CHNM works to democratize history by working to involve new and diverse audiences for the contribution and preservation of history. The CHNM welcomes over 16 million visitors per year and over 1 million users of its digital tools designed for teaching, learning, and research. 5

The CHNM creates online history projects for academia, such as web projects on U.S history, The French Revolution, world history, and the history of science and technology. The projects allow new and rare historical documents to be freely available to everyone and demonstrates how new media can improve the field of history.

The CHNM has created a syllabus finder to search over 1,500,000 syllabi to help find new patterns in history teaching such as the popularity of different courses and texts, and assignments.

The CHNM’s History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, is a website designed to provide academia with internet resources and materials. It was awarded the 2004 the James Harvey Robinson Prize of the American Historical Association for an Oustanding Teaching Aid.

Roy Rosenzweig was the executive producer for the CHNM‘s World History Matters which won the 2006 James Harvey Robinson Prize of the American Historical Association

The CHNM and the Stanford University History Education Group created the National History Education Clearinghouse funded with a $7.5 million grant by the U.S Department of Education. The website gives history teachers of K-12 resources to show students how history is important for their daily life and U.S. history content to help improve education.

Zotero, initially released in 2006, is an open source extension for the Firefox browser developed by the CNHM to aid historians in using the internet for their research. The software helps to collect and manage reference sources on the web to help citation in research.

The Center for History and New Media has earned other major grants and awards, listed here.

CHNM also works to preserve digital history. The September 11 Digital Archives is a web history project funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to preserve electronic records though a partner ship between the CHNM and the American Social History Project. The Digital Archive, led by Rosenzweig, preserves a collection of over 150,000 items of e-mails, digital voice mails, and videos created by individual citizens reacting to September 2001 attacks. Such history could have been lost forever if this action was not taken for its preservation. In September 2003, the CHNM gave the collection to the Library of Congress.12

Rosenzweig considers the problems of digital preservation in his June 2003 article, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, in The American Historical Review. He discusses the “fragility of evidence in the digital era.” and how digital records of history can easily be lost.

In 1998, he published The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life, which he co-authored with David Thelan. The survey of 1,500 Americans about the connections between history and normal everyday life won the 1999 Historic Preservation Book Award and the 1999 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

Rosenzwieg was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award in 1999, the highest honor for faculty in thepublic and private colleges and universities of Virignia.

In 2003, he was awarded the Richard W. Lyman award, presented the National Humanities Center and the Rockefeller Foundation for innovative use of information technology in the teaching of humanities along with a prize of $25,000.

He served as the vice-president for the Vice-President for Research of the American Historical Association from 2003 to 2006.

Rosenzweig co-authored Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web with his colleague Dan Cohen. Published in 2006, the book encourages historians to consider using digital media and explains to historians who may be unfamiliar to new digital technology good practices help them. History websites have the advantages of wide accessibility, large capacities, and interactivity but also disadvantages such as authenticity and durability.13

In June, 2006, Rosenzweig published an article in the Journal of American History titled “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past”. Rosenzewig discusses the new possibilities and setbacks of the open source writing of history on Wikipedia. Traditionally, history has been written by individual historians credited to their own works. Wikipedia however is written by many anonymous authors all contributing together to possibly share a greater quantity of information but cause concerns for authenticity. The wealth of material on Wikipedia makes no distinction on the importance of any particular information. Rosenzweig discovers that there are few minor factual mistakes in the U.S history articles he checked, but some contained widely spread errors that were even inconsistent between Wikipedia’s articles. He concludes, however, that Wikipedia “roughly matches Encarta in accuracy”.

Although Wikipedia’s history articles are factually accurate, Rosenzweig explains there is a lack the contextual understanding. "Good historical writing requires not just factual accuracy but also a command of the scholarly literature, persuasive analysis and interpretations, and clear and engaging prose. By those measures, American National Biography Online easily outdistances Wikipedia." He compares the Wikipedia article of President Abraham Lincoln to historian James McPherson’s in American National Biography Online. Both are accurate of facts but McPherson’s has the “ability to convey a profound message in a handful of words” whereas Wikipedia is “verbose and dull”.6

Rosenzweig was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Organization of Amerian Historians in March 2007 for "contributions have significantly enriched our understanding and appreciation of American history". In 2008, the award was renamed in memory for Rosenzweig. 15

The American Historical Association awarded Rosenzweig The Troyer-Steele Anderson Prize before his death and posthumously conferred it during the 122nd annual meeting.

Rosenzweig taught history at George Mason University for 26 years until his death. On Ocober 11, 2007, Rosenzweig, age 57, passed away at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County from lung cancer.

Surviving family of Roy were his wife Deborah Kaplan of Arlington, Virginia; mother, Mae Rosenzweig of Coconut Creek, Florida; and a sister, Robin Rosenzweig Schkrutz.17

Selected Works


  1. Thanks, Roy: About
  2. Roy Rosenzweig’s Curriculum Vitae
  3. The Mason Gazette: University Mourns Death of Professor Rosenzweig
  4. American Historical Association, Roy Rosenzweig, 1950- 2007 by Chris Hale and Pillarisetti Sudhir
  5. Center for History and New Media: About
  6. Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past by Roy Rosenzweig
  7. Roy Rosenzweig and the Field of Digital History: A Tribute by William G. Thomas, III
  8. CHNM’s syllabus Finder
  9. National History Education Clearinghouse
  10. Zotero
  11. Rosenzweig, Roy. "Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era" The American Historical Review 108, 3 (June 2003): 735-762.
  12. The September 11 Digital Archive
  13. Cohen, Daniel J., Roy Rosenzweig. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
  14. Rosenzweig, Roy. Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers & Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920. New York City: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  15. OAH Roy Rosenzweig Distinguished Service Award
  16. AHA Award Recipients James Harvey Robinson Prize for an Outstanding Teaching Aid
  17. Washington Post: Digital Historian Roy A. Rosenzweig by Adam Bernstein
  18. George Mason University’s History News Network, In Memory of Roy Rosenzweig (1950-2007)