Professor of History Clifton Hood recently authored his second book, “In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis.” The book, published on Nov. 8, by Columbia University Press, is a cultural history of New York City’s upper class from the mid-18th century to the present.
“Not many people have studied New York’s upper class outside of the Gilded Age, but my account pushes it back and extends it forward,” explains Hood. “It’s very unusual to have a scholarly book, like ‘In Pursuit of Privilege,’ that uses primary sources to cover 300 years of history.”
The culmination of 17 years of research and writing draws on primary sources – such as diaries, records of organizations like the Metropolitan Opera and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and archives from the New York City Public Library – to recount the upper-class New Yorkers’ struggle to create a “distinct world guarded against outsiders.”
From the elite families and the wealthy tycoons of the 18th and 19th centuries to the Wall Street executives of today, the book profiles famous and infamous people. The book also examines cultural questions, like what the elites’ values were and how they understood themselves and their distinction from lower classes.
Hood goes on to explore the impact of the economy and laws, the emergence of Wall Street, and the dominance of the financial and service sectors in the 1980s. He ultimately shows that New York’s upper class did not rise exclusively from the Gilded Age but rather from a “relentless pursuit of privilege, affecting not just the urban elite but the city’s entire cultural, economic, and political fabric.”
A member of the HWS faculty since 1992, Hood holds a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Washington University and a master’s and doctorate from Columbia University. His main fields of study include elites, New York City, historical memory and mass transit. He is the author of “722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How they Transformed New York.” He is currently working on a third book that examines imposters.