New York, January 20, 2017—David Jaffee, professor and head of New Media Research at Bard Graduate Center, died peacefully on January 20, 2017. He was 62 years old.

David Jaffee received his BA in History and Literature from Harvard University in 1976. He spent a year at Christ’s College Cambridge University and returned to Harvard for his doctoral work, writing a dissertation on the cultural geography of Early America under the supervision of Professor Bernard Bailyn. This was later published by Cornell University Press as People of the Wachusett: Greater New England in History and Memory, 1630–1860. Blending social and cultural history, it was described by the Journal of American History as “an ambitious book [which] provides a social history of town creation and development and briefer forays into cultural identity as explored by residents” and by the Journal of the Early Republic as “an important book whose central conception of serial town settlement as the engine of cultural production in greater New England makes a valuable contribution to New England studies.” He was a historian at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, and taught at Georgetown University and Princeton University before being hired as an assistant professor at City College in 1987. He taught there, and at the CUNY Graduate Center, until 2007. At the Graduate Center he taught courses on the literature of US history, material worlds, visual and material culture of the US, the market revolution, and the challenge of new media in history. As one of the chief scholars in the CUNY system working on history, material culture, and new media, he worked closely with Joshua Brown and the American Social History project (on whose Advisory Board he sat), Stephen Brier and the CUNY program in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and Kevin Murphy with whom he taught graduate seminars. He was also a Fulbright Professor in American Studies at the University of Tokyo.

Jaffee came to Bard Graduate Center in 2007. “David was the central figure in two of the major curricular initiatives of the past ten years—not coincidentally, the years he was at the BGC—the digital media lab and the material culture of New York City,” said Dean Peter N. Miller. “Without him, these would never have taken off as they have.” He was especially instrumental in forming policy and curricular direction for the new Digital Media Lab, which opened in fall 2009 and in hiring its first director, Kimon Keramidas. At Bard Graduate Center, his courses included The Material Culture of New York City, The 1853 New York Crystal Palace, Commerce and Culture in the Modern City, and Reading the American Landscape. Several of his courses were co-taught, including Interpretation of the Artifact in the Age of New Media with Kimon Keramidas, Objects of Colonial Encounter with Aaron Glass, and American Consumer Culture with Catherine Whalen. His book The New Nation of Goods: Artisans, Consumers, and Commodities in Early America, 1790–1860 was published by University of Pennsylvania Press in 2010 and won the Fred Kniffen Book Prize of the Pioneer America Society. Jaffee was the visual editor of Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society. During his years at Bard Graduate Center he formulated the plan for an NEH Summer Institute for College Teachers on American Material Culture using New York City as the case study. This innovative project was selected four times in four applications by the NEH and Jaffee served as its project director, collaborating with Catherine Whalen as well as with K.C. Grier (Winterthur-University of Delaware) and Bernard L. Herman (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). At the same time, he began to see the convergence between digital and exhibition research. He explored nineteenth-century New York material culture in two Focus Projects at Bard Graduate Center: Visualizing 19th Century New York (spring 2014) and New York Crystal Palace 1853 (spring 2017).

Associate Professor Catherine Whalen, his fellow Americanist, explained that “David’s outstanding scholarship ranged widely and deeply, from fine-grained intercultural histories of colonial New England to innovative analyses of nineteenth-century makers, distributors, and users of consumer goods.” She emphasized “his dedication to making American social history and visual and material culture available across new media platforms” including digital and exhibition spaces. “Above all,” said Chair of Academic Programs, Professor Andrew Morrall, “David will be remembered for his deep commitment to his students, his pleasure, as a leading historian of American material culture, in sharing his store of accumulated knowledge, and his principled sense of fair-mindedness and unstinting generosity of spirit.”