James T. Patterson (born January 1, 1935, in Connecticut) is an American historian, who was the Ford Foundation Professor of History at Brown University for 30 years. He was educated at Harvard University. His research interests include political history, legal history, and social history, as well as the history of medicine, race relations, and education. In 1981–1982, he was the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.
Patterson attended the Hotchkiss School before enrolling at Williams College, where he earned a B.A. in 1957. He then served for 6 months in the U.S. Army before taking a job at the Hartford Courant, where, he says, “I was responsible for writing 25 inches of news every day, and I learned to write quickly, using strong verbs, because I knew that the audience was made up of American adults at the breakfast table. This developed my style of writing, which seeks to be strongly narrative.”
In fall of 1960, Patterson entered Harvard University, earning an M.A. in 1961 and a Ph.D. in history in 1964. He started his teaching career at Indiana University, moving to Brown University in 1972 until his retirement in 2002.
His first three books (1967–1972) were "straightforward political history. I had always been very interested in politics before moving to academia." For this work Patterson received the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians (1966), two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was also the recipient of an Indiana University Teaching Award and the Ohioana Award, a book prize for his 1972 volume on Taft.
In the 1970s, Patterson noticed a trend away from the academic writing of political history and toward an emphasis on societal issues such as race, class, and gender. In keeping with this trend, in 1987 he published The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture, chronicling the societal reaction to the disease from the 1880s to the 1980s, and exploring the social tensions and the persistence of fear caused by its specter, and how it reveals divisions in American life.
In 1997, Patterson published Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974, volume 10 of the Oxford History of the United States, covering political, cultural, and economic events of the postwar period through the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. It was praised by historians and readers alike for its balanced commentary and readability. In his next four books, Patterson tackled the civil rights case of Brown v. Board of Education, the period from the Watergate era to the Bush v. Gore election of 2000, the Moynihan Report, and the seminal year 1965.
“The historian helps people understand the ‘pastness of the past.’ We do this with thorough research from original sources. I don’t believe that history can be instrumental as a guideline as to how you should act. But it will help you understand the immense variety and oddity of human nature.”
- 1966 Frederick Jackson Turner Award for Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal: The Growth of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, 1933–1939
- 1968 Guggenheim Fellow
- 1997 Bancroft Prize in American History for Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974
- James T. Patterson (November 24, 2012), "Everything you know about the 1960s is wrong"
- James T. Patterson (2012), The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America
- James T. Patterson (2010), Freedom Is Not Enough: The Moynihan Report and America’s Struggle over Black Family Life from LBJ to Obama
- James T. Patterson (2009), "The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies"
- James T. Patterson (2006), "Jeremiahs and grand expectations", Brown University
- Steven F. Lawson, Charles M. Payne; introduction by James T. Patterson (2006). Debating the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1968. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-7425-5109-1.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- James T. Patterson (2005). Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512216-9.
- James T. Patterson (2001), Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy
- James T. Patterson (1996). Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511797-4.
- James T. Patterson (1987). The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-21626-6.
- James T. Patterson (1981). America's Struggle Against Poverty, 1900-1994. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03123-4. (1981, 1986, 1994, 2000)
- James T. Patterson (1973), America in the Twentieth Century: A History (4th ed. 1994; 5th ed. 1999)
- James T. Patterson (1972), Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft
- James T. Patterson (1967), The New Deal and the States: Federalism in Transition
- James T. Patterson (1967). Congressional Conservatism and the New Deal: The Growth of the Conservative Coalition in Congress, 1933-1939. University of Kentucky Press. (reprint 2008 ISBN 978-1-59740-417-4)
- "James T. Patterson '52". The Hotchkiss School. April 2011. Archived from the original on 2015-09-19.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-28. Retrieved 2009-11-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "James T. Patterson". Organization of American Historians. Archived from the original on 2015-02-11.
- "James T. Patterson". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
- Morin, Richard P. "Patterson is the latest in a line of Brown's Bancroft recipients". George Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2007-04-29.