michael katz

Michael B. Katz, the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, died on August 23 from cancer at age 75.

Dr. Katz came to Penn as a full professor in 1978 and chaired the history department from 1991-1995 and 2011-2012.

He co-directed the Urban Studies Program from 1983 until 1996. Early in his tenure as co-director, he restructured the curriculum, balancing multi-disciplinary coursework with a core of shared experiences and turned Penn’s program into a model for other such programs around the country. He combined academic rigor and student engagement with the wider community. Dr. Katz also inaugurated the annual Urban Studies lecture to bring a major urban scholar to campus. “Just as important to Michael as the lecture was the lunchtime discussion with our seniors, at which they questioned the lecturers’ methods and conclusions,” said Mark Stern and Elaine Simon, co-directors of the Urban Studies Program. “As in his own interaction with students, Michael saw these sessions as an opportunity to illuminate the puzzles and discoveries of intellectual life as the seniors completed their papers.” 

From 1989-1995, Dr. Katz served as archivist to the Social Science Research Council’s Committee for Research on the Urban Underclass and in 1992 was a member of the Task Force to Reduce Welfare Dependency appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey. 

“His scholarship transformed our understanding of three important aspects of American history,” said Dr. Stern and Dr. Simon. “His early work on the history of school reform in the 19th century challenged the dominant narrative of progressive improvement and asked if the emergence of large, bureaucratic school systems was inevitable. He then turned to the study of class and family structure of North American cities in several books that sharpened our understanding of how ethnicity, social inequality and public institutions shaped cities. Finally, his research on the history of social welfare discovered the long, generally underappreciated role of government in providing aid to low-income populations. In his last major book, Why Don’t American Cities Burn?, he synthesized much of his earlier work to challenge progressives to develop a counter-narrative of American cities that finds a place for both skepticism and hope.”

Dr. Katz published extensively and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. In 1999, he received a Senior Scholar Award, marking a lifetime of achievement from the Spencer Foundation. At Penn, he was given the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Graduate Student Teaching and Mentoring in 2007 (Almanac April 17, 2007).

Dr. Katz was a Guggenheim Fellow and a resident fellow at institutes including the Russell Sage Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was awarded research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institute on Education and a number of foundations. He was a fellow of the National Academy of Education, National Academy of Social Insurance, the Society of American Historians and a member of the American Philosophical Society. He was past-president of the History of Education Society and of the Urban History Association.

Before coming to Penn, Dr. Katz was a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the University of Toronto and then a professor at York University. He had also been a visiting associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton, the Russell Sage Foundation and the Institute for Advanced Study.
Educated at Harvard, Dr. Katz received a BA in 1961, an MAT in 1962 and an EdD in 1966.

Dr. Katz is survived by his wife, Edda, a retired staff member in Information Systems and Computing; son, Paul; daughters, Rebecca and Sarah; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

The history department and urban studies program will host a memorial for Dr. Michael B. Katz on Monday, September 22 at 5 p.m. in rm. 200, College Hall.

Contributions may be made to HIAS Pennsylvania via http://hiaspa.org/, Bread & Roses community fund via http://breadrosesfund.org/ or the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania via www.penncancer.org/patients/giving/