An All-Night Bike Ride Through New York City's History

October 01, 2014

When historian Kenneth Jackson teaches his “History of the City of New York” course, he takes his students out of the classroom, on an all night field trip—a midnight bicycle ride that starts in upper Manhattan, wends its way through Central Park, Times Square, over the Brooklyn Bridge and ends in Brooklyn Heights at dawn.

What better way, he asks, to fully experience the city’s history? On Sept. 19, in the 39th year of teaching his course, Jackson set off from College Walk trailed by some 200 students on bikes, stopping along the way at Madison Square, Gramercy Park, Washington Square and Wall Street, dismounting from his bike and picking up a bullhorn to explain how history was made in each spot.  

Jackson’s class, which he has taught for 39 years, is considered by undergraduates to be a “bucket list” course, one so special that they dare not miss it before they graduate from Columbia. There also were plenty of non-matriculating riders, people auditing the course, graduates from years past who return to act as safety chaperones and even a few who missed the ride when they were students.

John Lovi (CC’83) took Jackson’s class 33 years ago when he was a junior, and was working a night job that kept him from joining his classmates on the ride. His daughter, Alena Lovi-Borgmann is now a junior herself, and she asked her father to join her on the ride this year. “Thirty three years later, I’m completing the course curriculum,” said Lovi.

“The city at night is a magical thing,” said Jackson. The students “will see things and then they’ll study them, they’ll talk about them and remember them…This is an experience they will remember forever.”

Read more: Taking a Spin Through New York City’s History, The New York Times, September 2014