History Buzz July 8, 2013: History Doyen Edmund Morgan dies at 97; Yale University professor and leading historian of Colonial era


History Buzz


Edmund Morgan, 97; professor, leading historian of Colonial era

Source: Boston Globe, 7-9-13

Bob Child/Associated Press

2002 AP FILE

Edmund Morgan, shown at his home in Connecticut, won a Pulitzer Prize for his large body of work.

Edmund S. Morgan, one of the foremost historians of early America, died of pneumonia Monday in Yale-New Haven Hospital. He was 97. He had taught since 1955 at Yale University, where he was Sterling professor emeritus of history….READ MORE

Edmund S. Morgan, Historian Who Shed Light on Puritans, Dies at 97

Source: NYT, 7-9-13

Edmund S. Morgan, an award-winning historian who illuminated the intellectual world of the Puritans, explored the paradox of freedom and slavery in colonial Virginia and, in his 80s, wrote a best-selling biography of Benjamin Franklin, died on Monday in New Haven. He was 97….READ MORE

Yale historian who wrote book on Ben Franklin dies at 97

Source: New Haven Register, 7-9-13

Edmund S. Morgan, a revered Yale University historian who shared a birthday with Benjamin Franklin and whose insights into early New England enlightened generations of Americans, has died at the age of 97….READ MORE

The following is a reprint of  Edmund S. Morgan’s History Doyen profiled I edited while I was an Assistant Editor at the History News Network (HNN), as part of the History Doyens series I was the editor of  from 2006 to 2010. Morgan’s profile was first published on April 16, 2006. 

Edmund S. Morgan

What They’re Famous For

Edmund Morgan is the Sterling Professor Emeritus at Yale University. Morgan has authored dozens of books on Puritan and early colonial history, which are acclaimed for both their scholarly focus and their appeal to a general audience. Michael Kammen in the Washington Post Book World described Morgan as “one of the most distinguished historians of the United States.” His books have challenged traditional assumptions about the forces that shaped early American history, including the lives and beliefs of the Puritans and the impetus for the Revolutionary War. Morgan has earned a reputation as an historian of people as well as of ideas, and as a writer of wide appeal. Bruce Kuklick, writing in Books and Culture, maintained that “Edmund Morgan is arguably the finest living American historian.”Edmund Morgan  JPG

Morgan’s most influencial books include The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (1953), Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988), which won Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize in American History in 1989, and American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), which won the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize, the Southern Historical Association’s Charles S. Sydnor Prize and the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Award. Two of his early books, Birth of the Republic (1956) and The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958) which is a standard text on the topic used in University courses.

Morgan has received many awards throughout his prolific career for his work as a writer and a professor, including a lifetime achievement Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for “a creative and deeply influential body of work as an American historian that spans the last half-century.” In 1971 he was awarded the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa’s William Clyde DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching and scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious teaching prizes for Yale faculty. In 1972 he became the first recipient of the Douglas Adair Memorial Award for scholarship in early American history, and in 1986 he received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Historical Association. In 1965 Morgan became a Sterling Professor, one of Yale’s highest distinctions, and was awarded the 2000 National Humanities Medal by the US President Bill Clinton at a ceremony for “extraordinary contributions to American cultural life and thought.”

Morgan’s own interest in history grew while he was an undergraduate at Harvard, where he went on to earn his Ph.D in 1942. At Harvard Morgan studied under Perry Miller. Since he became a historian, he has witnessed a major change in his field. In 2002, he achieved his first New York Times best-seller with Benjamin Franklin Morgan attributes this to “the geezer factor. There just aren’t that many 86-year-olds writing books, so when they do, it’s quite an event.”

Personal Anecdote

The Calvinist

It was the 29th of August, 1938. After a postgraduate year at the London School of Economics I had been touring Europe with a friend, and we were then spending a week in Freiburg im Breisgau, not far from the French border. In a fit of cultural enthusiasm we had decided to travel to Colmar to view the famous altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, a day trip by train via Breissach on the German border.

Before describing what happened there and how it affected me, I need to say that I had spent four years at Harvard under the tutorship of Perry Miller, whose respect for ideas and need to share them had given direction to my college years. Edmund S. Morgan  JPG He, like myself, was a confirmed atheist but at the same time an admirer and profound student of Puritan theology and its elegant scheme of thought. His studies of that scheme would bring him recognition as the foremost intellectual historian of his day. As a student and admirer of Miller, I had devoted much of my college studies to growing familiar with the doctrines of predestination, original sin, divine perfection, human depravity, and theodicy (the defense of God’s goodness despite the existence of evil). Puritan theology commanded respect as a rigorous intellectual system. But I had never quite accepted its dire view of the human condition, its insistence on the innate depravity of human beings. At twenty-two most people did not look all that bad to me.

At Breissach I gained a new perspective on humanity. It was exactly one month before the Munich Pact for which Neville Chamberlain became infamous. The morning paper had announced that Hitler had sent an ultimatum to Czechoslovakia demanding the return of the Sudetenland. When we reached Breissach, we were told that there was a two-hour wait before we would be allowed to cross over to the French side of the Rhine to reach Colmar. And as we strolled through the town, we noticed that young men in SS uniform were everywhere, standing conspicuously in every doorway. Without exception they were blond, six feet tall or more, good-looking. They could easily have been taken for American college boys. So we asked one of them what was going on. “Nur Ubung” was the answer: “just an excercise.” We came to a road leading to a cathedral overlooking the Rhine. As we walked into a beer garden we were confronted by a man in plainclothes who came over to tell us in a civil manner that we could go no further. Why? Because they were “cleaning the cathedral.” We laughed out loud, and so did he. They don’t clean cathedrals in Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. Anyhow, we must not proceed. He was obviously Gestapo.

So we sat down in the beer garden, next to a low hedge beside the street. Moments later, a big open-topped Mercedes touring car fishtailed to a stop near us. Top brass in Wehrmacht uniforms stepped down and had the SS arrange everyone on the street (full of people as curious as we were) in a row opposite to where we sat. Blackshirted men stood at six-foot intervals beside our hedge watching the citizenry, hands on pistols. Why we, and a few others, were permitted to stay put is a puzzle. Everyone was aware that some big shot was coming, but we did not expect the man himself. Then Hitler came through, fanning his signature sloppy salute to the crowd, as his touring car drove up past the cathedral that was not being cleaned. There was no mistaking his beefsteak-red face and negligent demeanor. In preparation for the coming war he was inspecting the Rhine fortifications.

We sat quietly, not ten feet from him as he passed slowly by. I could not help thinking that if I had been armed I could have shot him. (Like many American boys of my generation, I had been given a rifle at an early age and shown how to use it on small unoffending animals.) No one had searched me or any other patron of the beer garden, though I assume that more than one SS man had us in his sights.

The point of this story, for me, however, is that I knew I was looking evil in the face. And it looked like my next-door neighbor or a friend of the family, perhaps a bit old-fashioned but solid. Edmund S.  Morgan JPG What Hitler was already doing to the Jews of Germany and Austria was no secret-although highly-placed officials of the United States government were content to look away and to complain about slanders directed against the German nation.(The American consul at Stuttgart, with whom I had subsequent dealings, was a blatant antisemite.) The part those fresh-faced, and, well, biddable, young men in black were playing was no secret, either. But they all looked so human and so everyday. Even the Gestapo agent could have been a stodgy chance-met tourist rather than a hard man or heavily-armed stooge.

Puritan theology began to make sense, in a way that shook me. I could not believe in the salvation of a few held out by John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards, but human depravity suddenly acquired a face, the cheerful mask that we all learn to wear as the price of belonging to a settled social order. I was still an atheist, as I am now, but that day in Breissach I became a Calvinist atheist. Human beings are capable of great good, but I know that the capacity for fathomless evil is equally human, and it wears a smiling face.


By Edmund S. Morgan

  • “We can know what many of his contemporaries came to recognize, that he did as much as any man ever has to shape the world he and they lived in. Benjamin Franklin JPG We can also know what they must have known, that the world was not quite what he would have liked to make it. But we may also discover a man hidden behind the affability and wit that entranced those who enjoyed his presence. We may discover a man with a wisdom about himself that comes only to the great of heart. Franklin knew how to value himself and what he did without mistaking himself for some- thing more than one man among many. His special brand of self-respect required him to honor his fellow men and women no less than himself. His way of serving a superior God was to serve them. He did it with a recognition of their human strengths and weaknesses as well as his own, in a spirit that another wise man in another century has called “the spirit which is not too sure it is right.” It is a spirit that weakens the weak but strengthens the strong. It gave Franklin the strength to do what he incredibly did, as a scientist, a statesman, and a man.” — Edmund S. Morgan in “Benjamin Franklin”
  • How Virginian, then, was America? How heavily did American economic opportunity and political freedom rest on Virginia’s slaves? If Virginia had continued to rely on the importation of white servants, would they have headed north when they turned free and brought insoluble problems of poverty with them? Would they have threatened the peace and prosperity of Philadelphia and New York and Boston, where the poor were steadily growing in numbers anyhow? Would Northerners have embraced republican ideas of equality so readily if they had been surrounded by men in “a certaindegree of misery”? American  Slavery, American Freedom JPG And could the new United States have made a go of it in the world of nations without Virginia and without the products of slave labor? Northern republicans apparently thought not. Some could not condone slavery and talked of breaking loose from the South in their own independent confederation. But the fact is that they did not. They allowed Virginians to compose the documents that founded their republic, and they chose Virginians to chart its course for a generation.”Eventually, to be sure, the course the Virginians charted for the United States proved the undoing of slavery. And a Virginia general gave up at Appomattox the attempt to support freedom with slavery. But were the two more closely linked than his conquerors could admit? Was the vision of a nation of equals flawed at the source by contempt for both the poor and the black? Is America still colonial Virginia writ large? More than a century after Appomattox the questions linger.” — Edmund Morgan in “American Slavery, American Freedom”
  • “It looked as though my best friend at Brown, Barney Keeney, was going to be made president, but the corporation didn’t do anything about that until Wriston was just about ready to step out of office. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but I would have been upset if they hadn’t made Keeney president; on the other hand, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be teaching at a college where my best friend was president. I though to myself , ‘Maybe you’re just too complacent.’ I found myself getting very conservative about practically everything. I didn’t want any changes made. I thought, ‘Well, you need shaking up. You’re sitting here getting just as complacent as you can be.’ And then Yale makes me this offer, so I said, ‘Oh, well, what the hell.’ Hedges made no bones about advising me. He said ‘Brown is Brown, but Yale is Yale. You ought not to stay here, you ought to go on.’ So, in any case I decided. ‘Well, maybe I need some more challemges, maybe I need to be shaken up.’ In a sense I left Brown because I was too confortable there.” — Edmund S. Morgan in 1985 interview discussing his decision to teach at Yale.
  • “I guess The Stamp Act Crisis. That’s the one I got the most excitement out of writing, I guess. I felt that I was seeing things fresh in in a major current of American history. Putting it together was more challenging than most books that I’ve done; maybe it was my firsat real book after my dissertation.” — Edmund S. Morgan in 1985 interview discussing his most influencial and also favorite book.
  • “I made a point of always teaching undergraduates because they are not a captive audience. If you teach undergrads, you have to make history intelligible to people who are not specialists in your field and that’s good for you as a scholar. I always tried out my research ideas first in the classroom to get feedback from people who didn’t have to listen to me if I didn’t make it interesting.” — Edmund S. Morgan on ungraduate teaching in “Humanities”
  • “I used to tell my students to try and maintain the capacity for surprise. If you’re studying the French Revolution and you come across something that surprises you, you have to ask why it surprises you. Most likely, it’s because what you’ve read about the French Revolution before would not lead you to think that this would happen or that it had happened. So don’t say, ‘gee, I didn’t know that’-you have to ask why you didn’t know that. The likelihood is that somebody else gave you the impression it wasn’t so…. “You’ve got to take what people say seriously.”… “Don’t start with the assumption that they didn’t mean what they were saying. It’s up to you to show that they don’t mean it if you don’t think they mean it. All that postmodernism is junk. If the postmodernists are right, there’s no point in studying history at all… No matter what people say, history doesn’t repeat itself.” ” — Edmund S. Morgan in a Publishers Weekly interview about historical philosophy
  • Looking back on his career as a teacher, Morgan says that his greatest reward in the classroom was “getting students to talk back and challenge my ideas. I always had large classes, but I encouraged students to interrupt me at any time.”… “My view has always been that an analysis of historical developments should be embodied in narrative,” Morgan says of his approach as both teacher and writer of history. “A historian should not be didactic-that is a word that makes my blood run cold.” — Edmund Morgan in Yale Bulletin & Calendar, January 12, 2001

About Edmund S. Morgan

  • “While several previous biographies provide fuller accounts of Franklin’s life, none rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character, its affinity not just for his ideas, but for the way his mind worked.” — Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books on “Benjamin Franklin”
  • “So much has been written about Benjamin Franklin in the 212 years since his death that you might imagine there’s nothing left to say. But there always is. Now comes another biography of the man, a fairly short one, and in my opinion it’s one of the best. The author is Edmund S. Morgan, a historian of early America at Yale University for 47 years, now emeritus. He stands high in his profession, is closely familiar with the 18th (Franklin’s) century, and writes with clarity and a pleasing informality. He is an ideal author for this undertaking.” — Max Hall, former editor at Harvard University Press reviewing “Benjamin Franklin”
  • “Benjamin Franklin generated much controversy in his own times, and historians have reflected this in their treatment of him. Professor Edmund S. Morgan, in his new and readable biography, relies heavily on Franklin’s writings to tell Franklin’s side of the story. He does it well…Franklin would have been pleased with Morgan’s interpretation. Many others, both then and now, would disagree, but, for those who want to know Franklin as Franklin undoubtedly wanted to be known, Morgan’s biography is the place to start. — Owen S. Ireland reviewing “Benjamin Franklin”
  • For the past quarter century Edmund S. Morgan has been one of the most prolific and respected authors of early American history. Noted for its incisiveness, as well as its graceful crafting, his work on the New England Puritans and the American Revolution has set high standards as a model of careful investigation and sensitive reading of the historical record. For these reasons, any addition to the corpus of Morgan’s scholarship immediately commands his colleagues’ attention. But American Slavery, American Freedom is attractive in its own right because it is one of the first book-length studies to emerge from the current reexamination of Virginia’s colonial history. Furthermore, Morgan’s assessment of the Old Dominion’s first two centuries is destined to spark controversy among specialists in Southern history and slavery…. American Slavery, American Freedom is a stimulating book. Its insights are provocative and imaginative, and therein lies the book’s importance. — Warren M. Billings, University of New Orleans reviewing “American Slavery, American Freedom”
  • Edmund Morgan’s The Genuine Article is an anthology of book reviews written by one of America’s most prolific and knowledgeable scholars of early America for the New York Review of Books. Having said that, one should not assume that his reviews resemble anything that you will read in the book reviews of journalism History. While each review is a means of educating readers about the book or books that he is reviewing, Morgan, who has written and edited twenty other volumes since 1952, is more interested in enlightening readers about issues, people, and events from seventeenthand eighteenth-century America.Genuine Article JPG For Morgan, who taught at Yale University from 1955 until his retirement in 1986, the release of a new volume on early America presented the opportunity to give readers a history lesson while critiquing the scholarship that provided him with a point of departure. The resulting collection is probably the best historiography and introduction to life in early America that one could imagine with each lesson presented in twenty or fewer pages of concise, insightful commentary. The Genuine Article‘s chapters, which cover nearly forty years of Morgan’s reviews, describe most aspects of life in the colonies from the landing at Jamestown through the Revolution… Morgan reiterates this throughout, but, of even more value, he demonstrates what he professes through his reviews. The book’s cover claims Morgan “has had a more profound role in shaping our perceptions of the American colonies” than any other living historian. The breadth and depth of the reviews included in this anthology confirm the claim. — David Copeland reviewing “The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America”
  • “Edmund S. Morgan remains one of the academy’s best secrets. Over a long and fruitful career, Puritan  Dilemma JPG he has been one of the most influential historians of early America, a man with a rare gift for telling the story of the past simply and elegantly without sacrificing its abundant complexity. The best known of his books is probably his biography of John Winthrop, “The Puritan Dilemma.” Mr. Morgan’s “Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles” is the inside favorite of many historians, but the hilarious comparison of Indians with the barbarous Englishmen of 17th-century Virginia in “American Slavery – American Freedom” will delight anyone with a taste for the human comedy and good writing. Yet the work of this artist among contemporary historians remains generally unknown to the reading public.” — Pauline Maier in the New York Times Book Review
  • “To Edmund S. Morgan, for his brilliant scholarship as one of America’s most distinguished historians. With elegant prose, fresh perspective, and exhaustive research, he has enhanced our understanding of American colonial history by challenging traditions and assumptions about the birth of our nation and by bringing to life the people and ideas that shaped America’s destiny.” — 2000 National Humanities Medal Certificate’s commendation
  • “Morgan doesn’t teach history, he narrates it. Listening to his lectures is like listening to a story.” — Anonymous former student

Basic Facts

Teaching Positions: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, instructor in social sciences, 1945-46;

Edmund S.  Morgan JPG

Brown University, Providence, RI, assistant professor, 1946-49, associate professor, 1949-51, professor of history, 1951-55;

Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of history, 1955-65, Sterling Professor of History, 1965-86, professor emeritus, 1986–.

Johnson Research Professor, University of Wisconsin, 1968-69.

Member of council, Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1953-56, 1958-60, and 1970-72;

Trustee of Smith College, 1984- 89.

Area of Research: Puritan and American colonial history

Education: Harvard University, A.B., 1937, Ph.D., 1942;

London School of Economics, University of London, graduate study, 1937- 38.

Major Publications:

  • The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, (Boston Public Library, 1944, new edition, Harper, 1966).
  • Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century, Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, VA), 1952.
  • (With Helen M. Morgan) The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, (University of North Carolina Press, 1953, 3rd edition, 1994).
  • The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789, (University of Chicago Press, 1956, 3rd edition, 1992).
  • The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, (Little, Brown, 1958).
  • The American Revolution: A Review of Changing Interpretations, (Service Center for Teachers of History, 1958).
  • The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795, (Yale University Press, 1962, reprinted, Norton, 1984).
  • Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea, (New York University Press, 1963).
  • Roger Williams: The Church and the State, (Harcourt, 1967).
  • So What about History (Atheneum, 1969).
  • American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, (Norton, 1975).
  • The Challenge of the American Revolution, (Norton, 1976).
  • The Meaning of Independence: John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, (University Press of Virginia, 1976, 2nd edition, 2004).
  • The Genius of George Washington, (Norton, 1980).
  • Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, (Norton, 1988).
  • Benjamin Franklin, (Yale University Press, 2002).
  • The Genuine Article, (Norton, 2004).

Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:

  • (With others) The National Experience: A History of the United States, (Harcourt, 1963).
  • (With others) The Emergence of the American, (Educational Services, 1965).
  • Prologue to the Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764-1766, (University of North Carolina Press, 1959).
  • The Founding of Massachusetts: Historians and the Sources, (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964).
  • The American Revolution: Two Centuries of Interpretation, (Prentice-Hall, 1965).
  • The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657: The Conscience of a Puritan, (Harper, 1965).
  • Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794, (Bobbs-Merrill, 1965, 2nd edition, Hackett Publishing, 2003).

Contributor to The Mirror of the Indian, Associates of the John Carter Brown Library, 1958. Author of introduction to Paul Revere’s Three Accounts of His Famous Ride, (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1961, 2nd edition, 1968). Also contributor of articles and reviews to historical journals. Member of editorial board, New England Quarterly.


National Humanities Medal, 2000;

National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 2003, for Benjamin Franklin;

Organization of American Historians Distinguished Services Award, 1998;

Bruce Catton Award, 1992;

Columbia University’s 1989 Bancroft Prize in American History for Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1988);

In 1971 he was awarded the Yale Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa’s William Clyde DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching and scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious teaching prizes for Yale faculty. One year later, he became the first recipient of the Douglas Adair Memorial Award for scholarship in early American history, and in 1986 he received the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Historical Association.

Douglass Adair Memorial Award, 1972;

William Clyde DeWane Medal, 1971;

Research fellow, Huntington Library, 1952-53.

Morgan has received numerous fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council.

Morgan has received Honorary degrees from Rutgers University, Brown University, Colgate University, Washington College, William and Mary, University of New Haven, Williams College, Lawrence University, and Smith College.

Additional Info:

At Yale, Morgan has been a member of the Administrative Board of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin for more than 30 years and has been its chairman for the last 11. This documentary enterprise, sponsored by the American Philosophical Society and Yale and now edited by Ellen R. Cohn, is in its final few years. It now has 36 volumes and will eventually have about 46. In addition, the documents in all 46 volumes will be available on a CD-ROM.The documents are of three kinds: letters and other pieces written by Franklin, letters to Franklin, and other documents closely involving Franklin.

Edmund S.  Morgan JPG Morgan is a member of the Society of American Historians, American Antiquarian Society, Organization of American Historians (president, 1971-72), American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Historical Society, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, British Academy, Royal Historical Society.

During World War II Morgan worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, as a tool-and-die make in the Radiation Laboratory, (1942-45).

Morgan has been a professional woodturner for the past decade or so, working on large lathes and other equipment in the basement of his home. His walnut bowls and other creations have been exhibited at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven and at the League of New Hampshire Craftsman in New Hampshire, where Morgan maintains a vacation home. He and his wife, Marie Morgan, have also crafted tables and other furniture for their home in New Haven.

History Buzz April 5, 2013: History Doyen Robert Remini Dies at 91


History Buzz


Robert Remini, 91, acclaimed history professor, dies

Source: Chicago Tribune, 4-5-13

Robert Remini, an award-winning biographer and political historian, was named historian of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 and asked to pen a narrative history of the body. His book, “The House: The History of the House of Representatives,” was published the next year…READ MORE

The following is a reprint of Robert Remini’s History Doyen profiled I edited while I was an Assistant Editor at the History News Network (HNN). Robert Remini’s profile was the inaugural profile for the History Doyens series I edited, and was first published January 20, 2006 .  

History Doyens: Robert V. Remini

Edited & Compiled by Bonnie K. Goodman

What They’re Famous For

Robert V. Remini is professor emeritus of history and the humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Robert V. Remini  JPGHe is currently at work on a narrative history of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has been named House Historian. Remini has written a three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson, the third volume of the series, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1984. He is also the author of biographies of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, as well as a dozen other books on Jacksonian America, and is considered the most preeminent scholar on Andrew Jackson and his times.

Personal Anecdote

To a very large extent my career as an historian, such as it is, was determined by events over which I had little control. For example, when I graduated from college I fully intended to become a lawyer. Not because I was intrigued by the law but because it seemed like a worthy profession then for a child of the Great Depression. Fortunately World War II came along and I found myself aboard a ship plying the Atlantic and reading histories of the United States. I even read all nine volumes of Henry Adams’s History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and I loved every page. After three years in the service I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life reading and writing and teaching history. I got so worked up that I even had the audacity of writing an article and submitting it for publication to the American Historical Association. It wasn’t a very good article and was based solely on secondary sources. Graciously, the AHA rejected it, but it was not many years later when they did publish an article I wrote.

So as soon as I was discharged I enrolled in the graduate school of Columbia University and began my newly discovered career. I was particularly anxious to study 20th century, urban, New York, political history. I’m not sure why, except that I was born and raised a New Yorker, as were both my parents. I signed up for an MA seminar conducted by Richard Hofstadter. He had arrived at Columbia about the same time I did. The class was packed with about 40 students, most of them returning veterans. Can you imagine a seminar of 40? I don’t think I ever said a word in the seminar. I just enjoyed every word Hofstadter spoke, for he spoke like he wrote, in complete sentences and paragraphs, every one a delight to hear. I wrote my master’s essay on John Purroy Mitchel, the reform mayor of New York City just prior to World War I and fully intended to continue with this topic for my doctorate.

Then one day Hofstadter approached me and suggested that I consider doing my PhD dissertation on Martin Van Buren since the Mitchel papers were locked up for 50 years which would prevent any further work on that topic. It seems that Columbia had received a grant that would permit the University to purchase microfilm copies of presidential papers held in the Library of Congress and the library people at Columbia were anxious to begin with copies of the Van Buren papers. Apparently the grant also stipulated that a graduate student begin working on them after their arrival. Now Van Buren was a New Yorker, said Hofstadter, and an important political figure. Granted he was not urban or twentieth century, but if I accepted his suggestion it would mean that I could do my basic research at Columbia and not have to travel to Washington or any other remote repository. Now if you think a graduate student cannot be influenced by such a proposal you are very mistaken.

I was gratified that Hofstadter had suggested me for this work and I agreed to switch to the nineteenth century. I did my doctoral dissertation on the early political career of Martin Van Buren under the direction of Dumas Malone, since Hofstadter did not give a PhD seminar at that time. That dissertation when published as a book argued that Van Buren was central to the formation of the Democratic party and the revival of the two party system. I fully expected to continue that work and write a full biography of Van Buren but Andrew Jackson intervened and changed all my plans. But that’s another and longer story.


By Robert V. Remini

  • At length one sovereign artist found the language to express what Andrew Jackson had meant to his generation. In Moby Dick, Herman Melvile paid everlasting tribute to the fallen hero:“Men may seem detestable… but man, in ideal, is so noble and so sparkling… that over any ignomininous blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes…. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shall see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality!The Course  of American Democracy, 1833-1845 JPG “If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades ands castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces;…if I shall touch that workman’s arm, with some etheral light…then against all moral critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!…Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a warhorse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!”To such an invocation of Jackson on behalf of the democratic ideal, one can only say, Amen, O God, Amen. — Robert Remini in the conclusion of “Andrew Jackson : The Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845″
  • I have been invited to speak on Heroes of History, a subject about which it is very easy for professional historians to be cynical. And that is a great mistake because there are a great many genuine heroes in American history, starting at the very beginning and coming down to the present. I am thinking in particular of the heroes of 9/11, the astronauts of the space ship, Columbia, and the soldiers who fought and are fighting in Iraq.The question immediately arises as to what constitutes heroism. How can a hero be defined? Each person will have his or her own definition, but to me heroes are those who have performed extraordinary sacrifices for the benefit of others, and most especially for their country.This past year I was fortunate to be invited by the Library of Congress to undertake the writing of the history of the United States House of Representatives. I will start with the First Congress and continue to the present 108th. In researching and writing that book, I have been amazed by what the members of the First Congress accomplished, not only by the fact that they were mostly “ordinary” men, most of whom are obscure today, but how through heroic efforts they breathed life into the Constitution and helped create a republic that has not only survived, but prospered to an extraordinary extent. — Robert V. Remini “Ordinary heroes: Founders of our republic,” July 2003
  • The House really needs somebody who can remind them of all of the great traditions, the history of the institution. This is how you come to really love the place, by knowing more about it and how it evolved. — Robert Remini on his commission by the Library of Congress to write history of the House.

About Robert V. Remini

  • “Robert Remini, the Jackson biographer who has also turned out works on John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, said that only recently had he realized that he’s never written history, just biographies. Even his newest project, a history of the Congress, is really a “series of biographies.” He said he finds it easy to write. It’s the rewriting that’s hard. ‘I was trained by Jesuits and you were rewarded if you did good and punished if you did bad. I decided that I had to write nine pages a day. And if I did I got a martini. If not, I didn’t. Now I take a martini whether I’ve written or not’ (laughter). Remini, who by now had the crowd in stitches, said there’s one chief advantage of biographies. ‘For one thing there’s a beginning and an end. He dies.’ — Rick Shenkman in HNN’s “Reporter’s Notebook: Highlights from the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association”
  • “The appointment of professor Robert Remini to the House Historian position is a magnificent choice. From my experience as House Historian, I know that the Representatives themselves and the public at large, not to mention historians in particular, believe that the person with the title of historian should be someone who has devoted his life to history, not to the study of politics and political institutions. In Robert Remini the House not only has a Historian, but a great historian. In fact, Remini is one of our greatest living American historians. He is one of the legends. He is author of a monumental biography of Andrew Jackson, and for years has been widely considered our most accomplished Jackson scholar. Furthermore, Remini has written numerous books on the Jackson period and on the fundamental issues and questions of American history. He is beyond question superbly qualified to be Historian of the House of Representatives.” — Christina Jeffrey, Visiting Professor of Politics, Coastal Carolina University in Roll Call
  • “In introducing his magisterial biography of Daniel Webster, Robert Remini laments the creeping historical illiteracy that threatens to engulf Webster and his contemporaries. All the more reason, then, to be grateful to Professor Remini, the nation’s leading Jacksonian scholar, for reminding us of a time when eminent historians still wrote for the general educated reader. Remini’s research is impeccable, his storytelling on a par with his outsized subject. And what a story he has to tell.” — Richard Norton Smith on “Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time”
  • “With this book, Robert V. Remini has completed his trio of biographies of the great political leaders of the Middle Period: Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and now Daniel Webster. Remini seems never to have met an anecdote he didn’t like. Alas, a good many of dubious authenticity found their way into this volume. The story of how Webster demanded an apology from the eminent lawyer William Pinckney for insulting him during arguments before the Supreme Court, for example, does not ring true. ‘Now I am here to say to you, once for all, that you must ask my pardon, and go into court tomorrow morning and repeat the apology,’ Webster supposedly told Pinckney, ‘or else either you or I will go out of this room in a different condition from that in which we entered it,’ at which Pinckney ‘trembled like an aspen leaf.’ It also seems hard to believe that after Webster’s notable reply to Hayne, another Southern senator said to him, ‘Mr. Webster, I think you had better die now, and rest your fame on that speech,’ whereupon Hayne himself declared: ‘You ought not to die: a man who can make such speeches as that ought never to die.’ Still, such tales enrich the narrative, and perhaps they illustrate a deeper truth. This life of Black Dan the Godlike Daniel is undoubtedly the fullest and the best that we will have for a long time to come.” — James McPherson, Princeton University on “Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time”

Basic Facts

Teaching Positions: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, Chicago, professor of history, 1965-91, research professor of humanities, 1985-91, professor of history emeritus and research professor of humanities emeritus, 1991–; chairman of department, 1965-66 and 1967-71, director of Institute for the Humanities, 1981-87.

Wofford College, 1998.

University of Notre Dame, 1995-96.

Robert V.  Remini JPG Douglas Southall Freeman Professor of History, University of Richmond, 1992.

Jilin University of Technology, China, 1986.

Fordham University, New York City, instructor, 1947-51, assistant professor, 1951-59, associate professor of American history, 1959-65.

Visiting lecturer, Columbia University, 1959-60.

Area of Research: 19th century U.S. History; Presidential History; American statesmen; including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay. He is especially well known for his works about Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian America.

Education: Fordham University, B.S., 1943; Columbia University, M.A., 1947, Ph.D., 1951.

Major Publications:

Sole Author:

  • Martin Van Buren and the Making of the Democratic Party, (Columbia University Press, 1959).
  • The Election of Andrew Jackson, (Lippincott, 1963).
  • Andrew Jackson, (Twayne, 1966).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of Presidential Power, (Norton, 1968).
  • The Revolutionary Age of Andrew Jackson, (Harper, 1977).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821, (Harper, 1977).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832, (Harper, 1981).
  • Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845, (Harper, 1984).
  • The Life of Andrew Jackson (includes 1767-1821, 1822-1832, and 1833-1845), Harper, 1988, published as Andrew Jackson, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998).
  • The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays in Democracy, Indian Removal and Slavery, (Louisiana State University Press, 1988).
  • The Jacksonian Era, (Harlan Davidson, 1989), second edition, 1997).
  • The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Democracy, Indian Removal and Slavery (Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History), (Louisiana State University Press, 1990)
  • Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, (Norton, 1991).
  • Daniel Webster: The Man and His Time ,(Norton, 1997), also published as Daniel Webster: A Conservative in a Democratic Age, (Norton, 1997).
  • The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America’s First Military Victory, (Viking, 1999).
  • Andrew Jackson & His Indian Wars, (Viking, 2001).
  • John Quincy Adams, (Times Books, 2002).
  • Joseph Smith, (Viking, 2002).
  • The House : The History of the House of Representatives, (Collins, May 2006)

Editor, Contributor, Joint Author:

  • (Editor and author of introduction and notes) Dixon Ryan Fox, The Decline of Aristocracy in the Politics of New York, 1801-1840, (Harper, 1965).
  • (Editor and author of introduction and notes) James Parton, The Presidency of Andrew Jackson, (Harper, 1966).
  • (Contributor) Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Fred L. Israel, editors, History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-1968, Volume I, (McGraw, 1971).
  • (Editor) The Age of Jackson, (University of South Carolina Press, 1972).
  • (With James I. Clark) Freedom’s Frontiers: The Story of The American People, Benzinger (Beverly Hills, CA), 1975.
  • (With Clark) We the People: A History of the United States, Glencoe (Beverly Hills, CA), 1975.
  • (Compiler with Edwin A. Miles) The Era of Good Feelings and the Age of Jackson, (AHM, 1979).
  • (With Robert O. Rupp) Andrew Jackson: A Bibliography, (Meckler, 1991).
  • (Author of historical overview) Sara Day, editor, Gathering History: The Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana, (Library of Congress, 1999).
  • (With Fred W. Beuttler, Melvin G. Holli), University of Illinois at Chicago (The College History Series), (Arcadia Publishing, 2000)
  • Consulting editor, The Papers of Andrew Jackson.
  • Additionally, Contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and to professional journals. Member of editorial board, Journal of American History, 1969-72.


  • The Freedom Award, The U.S. Capitol Historical Society (2004), Remini was honored for his lifelong work in historical scholarship and his current efforts in writing a narrative history of the House of Representatives.
  • the American Historical Association’s Award for Scholarly Distinction
  • Commissioned aide-de-camp and Tennessee Colonel by governor of Tennessee, 1992.
  • Society of Midland Authors Award, 1992, for Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union; commissioned Kentucky Colonel by governor of Kentucky, 1992.
  • Honorary degrees from Governor’s State University, 1989, Eastern Kentucky University, 1992, and Fordham University, 1993.
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation Award.
  • Carl Sandburg Award, 1989, for The Life of Andrew Jackson.
  • University Scholar Award, University of Illinois, 1986.
  • Friends of Literature Award, 1985.
  • National Book Award in nonfiction, 1984, for Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845.
  • Guggenheim fellow, 1978-79.
  • Huntington Library fellowship, 1978.
  • Friends of American Writers Award of Merit, 1977.
  • Encaenia Award, Fordham University, 1963.
  • Grant-in-aid, American Council of Learned Societies, 1960, and American Philosophical Society, 1964.

Additional Info: In May 2005 named House historian.

In September 2002 named Distinguished Visiting Scholar of American History in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress; Remini will research and write a narrative history of the U.S. House of Representatives. (The project was authorized by Congress in 1999 under the House Awareness and Preservation Act (P.L. 106-99))

Remini is a much sought after speaker and is hailed for his ability to make history “come alive.”

Honorary historian of Thirteen-Fifty Foundation.

Remini was named to the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.

Remini has served as a review board member for the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1974.

He was selected by President George Bush in 1991 to speak at the White House as part of the Presidential Lecture Series on the Presidency and has been invited by President George W. Bush as well.

Special editor, Crowell-Collier Educational Corp.

Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-46; became lieutenant.

History Doyens: Eric Foner


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

Eric Foner, 10-18-10

What They’re Famous For

Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is one of this country’s most prominent historians. He received his doctoral degree at Columbia under the supervision of Richard Hofstadter. He is only the second person to serve as president of the three major professional organizations: the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians.

Eric Foner JPG Professor Foner’s publications have concentrated on the intersections of intellectual, political and social history, and the history of American race relations. His best-known books are: Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1970; reissued with new preface 1995) Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (1976); Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (1983); Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988) (winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Parkman Prize, and Los Angeles Times Book Award); The Reader’s Companion to American History (with John A. Garraty, 1991); The Story of American Freedom (1998); and Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World (2002). His new book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, was just published in the fall of 2010.

Eric Foner is a winner of the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates (1991), and the Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University (2006). He was named Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities in 1995. In 2006, he received and the Kidger Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship from the New England History Teachers Association.

“Rarely have the study and teaching of history aroused such intense controversy as today. Public interest in how history is conceptualized and taught is to be applauded; however, the increasingly strident calls to reverse the recent achievements of a more heterogeneous profession, a broadened curriculum, and a more nuanced understanding of the American past must be resisted.”

(Excerpted from ericfoner.com)

Personal Anecdote

Eric Foner: Why he became an historian (Part 1)

The HISTORY NEWS NETWORK (http://hnn.us) recorded this appearance of Eric Foner at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association on the morning of January 6, 2007, as part of the panel “Lives in History: Four Master Historians Reflect on Their Careers.”

Eric Foner: Why he became an historian (Part 2)


By Eric Foner


  • On January 1, 1863, after a winter storm swept up the east coast of the United States, the sun rose in a cloudless sky over Washington, D.C. At the White House, Abraham Lincoln spent most of the day welcoming guests to the traditional New Year’s reception. Finally, in the late afternoon, as he had pledged to do 100 days before, the President retired to his office to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. Excluded from its purview were the 450,000 slaves in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri (border slave states that remained within the Union), 275,000 in Union-occupied Tennessee, and tens of thousands more in portions of Louisiana and Virginia under the control of federal armies. But, the Proclamation decreed, the remainder of the nation’s slave population, well over 3 million men, women, and children, “are and henceforth shall be free.”Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877  JPG Throughout the North and the Union-occupied South, January I was a day of celebration. An immense gathering, including black and white abolitionist leaders, stood vigil at Boston’s Tremont Temple, awaiting word that the Proclamation had been signed. It was nearly midnight when the news arrived; wild cheering followed, and a black preacher led the throng in singing “Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free.” At a camp for fugitive slaves in the nation’s capital, a black man “testified” about the sale, years before, of his daughter, exclaiming, “Now, no more dat! . . . Dey can’t sell my wife and child any more, bless de Lord!” Farther south, at Beaufort, an enclave of federal control off the South Carolina coast, there were prayers and speeches and the freedmen sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” To Charlotte Forten, a young black woman who had journeyed from her native Philadelphia to teach the former slaves, “it all seemed . . . like a brilliant dream.” Even in areas exempted from the Proclamation, blacks celebrated, realizing that if slavery perished in Mississippi and South Carolina, it could hardly survive in Kentucky, Tennessee, and a few parishes of Louisiana.

    Nearly two and a half centuries had passed since twenty black men and women were landed in Virginia from a Dutch ship. From this tiny seed had grown the poisoned fruit of plantation slavery, which, in profound and contradictory ways, shaped the course of American development. Even as slavery mocked the ideals of a nation supposedly dedicated to liberty and equality, slave labor played an indispensable part in its rapid growth, expanding westward with the young republic, producing the cotton that fueled the early industrial revolution. In the South, slavery spawned a distinctive regional ruling class (an “aristocracy without nobility” one Southern-born writer called it) and powerfully shaped the economy, race relations, politics, religion, and the law. Its influence was pervasive: “Nothing escaped, nothing and no one.”3 In the North, where slavery had been abolished during and after the American Revolution, emerged abolition, the greatest protest movement of the age. The slavery question divided the nation’s churches, sundered political ties between the sections, and finally shattered the bonds of Union. On the principle of opposing the further expansion of slavery, a new political party rose to power in the 1850s, placing in the White House a son of the slave state Kentucky, who had grown to manhood on the free Illinois prairies and believed the United States could not endure forever half slave and half free. In the crisis that followed Lincoln’s election, eleven slave states seceded from the Union, precipitating in 1861 the bloodiest war the Western Hemisphere has ever known.

    To those who had led the movement for abolition, and to slaves throughout the South, the Emancipation Proclamation not only culminated decades of struggle but evoked Christian visions of resurrection and redemption, of an era of unbounded progress for a nation purged at last of the sin of slavery. Even the staid editors of the New York Times believed it marked a watershed in American life, “an era in the history . . .of this country and the world.” For emancipation meant more than the end of a labor system, more even than the uncompensated liquidation of the nation’s largest concentration of private property (“the most stupendous act of sequestration in the history of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence,” as Charles and Mary Beard described it).4 The demise of slavery inevitably threw open the most basic questions of the polity, economy, and society. Begun to preserve the Union, the Civil War now portended a far-reaching transformation in Southern life and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American society and of the very meaning of freedom in the American republic.

    Eric Foner JPG

    In one sense, however, the Proclamation only confirmed what was already happening on farms and plantations throughout the South. War, it has been said, is the midwife of revolution, and well before 1863 the disintegration of slavery had begun. Whatever politicians and military commanders might decree, slaves saw the war as heralding the longawaited end of bondage. Three years into the conflict, Gen. William T. Sherman encountered a black Georgian who summed up the slaves’ understanding of the war from its outset: “He said . . . he had been looking for the ‘angel of the Lord’ ever since he was knee-high, and, though we professed to be fighting for the Union, he supposed that slavery was the cause, and that our success was to be his freedom. “5 Based on this conviction, the slaves took actions that propelled a reluctant white America down the road to abolition.

    As the Union Army occupied territory on the periphery of the Confederacy, first in Virginia, then in Tennessee, Louisiana, and elsewhere, slaves by the thousands headed for the Union lines. Union enclaves like Fortress Monroe, Beaufort, and New Orleans became havens for runaway slaves and bases for expeditions into the interior that further disrupted the plantation regime.

    Eric Foner in “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877”About Eric Foner

  • “Do we need yet another book on Lincoln?… Well, yes, we do—if the book is by so richly informed a commentator as Eric Foner. Foner tackles what would seem to be an obvious topic, Lincoln and slavery, and manages to cast new light on it…. Because of his broad-ranging knowledge of the 19th century, Foner is able to provide the most thorough and judicious account of Lincoln’s attitudes toward slavery that we have.” — David S. Reynolds – The New York Times Book Review The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery JPG
  • “While many thousands of books deal with Lincoln and slavery, Eric Foner has written the definitive account of this crucial subject, illuminating in a highly original and profound way the interactions of race, slavery, public opinion, politics, and Lincoln’s own character that led to the wholly improbable uncompensated emancipation of some four million slaves. Even seasoned historians will acquire fresh and new perspectives from reading The Fiery Trial.” — David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University, author of Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
  • “Definitive and breathtaking: with dazzling clarity and authority, demonstrating a total command of his sources and a sense of moral justice that transcends history, Foner has done nothing less than provide the most persuasive book ever written on Lincoln’s vital place in the fight for freedom in America. This volume stands alone in the field. It is not only the best account ever written on the subject; henceforth, it should be regarded as the only account.” — Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect
  • “Eric Foner has done it again. The Fiery Trial explores the pivotal subject of Lincoln and slavery free from the mists of hagiography and the muck of denigration. With his usual stylish mastery, Foner advances enlightened debate over our greatest president, the origins and unfolding of the Civil War, and the abolition of southern slavery. His book marks an auspicious intellectual beginning to the sesquicentennial of the American Iliad.” — Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
  • Starred Review. Original and compelling….In the vast library on Lincoln, Foner’s book stands out as the most sensible and sensitive reading of Lincoln’s lifetime involvement with slavery and the most insightful assessment of Lincoln’s—and indeed America’s—imperative to move toward freedom lest it be lost. An essential work for all Americans. — Library Journal
  • Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 is a “long, brilliant and stylish book . . . of signal importance, not only to understanding one of the most controversial periods in American history but to comprehending the course of race relations in this country during the last century.”… Reconstruction “is the most comprehensive and convincing account of the effort to build a racially democratic and just society from the fiery ruins of slavery.” — Gary Nash, Los Angeles Times Book Review
  • “in a deliberate effort to overturn stereotypes, [Foner] offers an admiring picture of the freedman during the postwar years… he has performed a real service in bringing blacks front and center in the Reconstruction drama, where they belong.” — David Herbert Donald, the New Republic
  • Foner “asserts that Reconstruction had a direct bearing on the civil rights movement and suggests that the period speaks to the still-persisting denial of freedom to blacks that lingers in so many parts of society…. Foner becomes the pre-eminent historian of Reconstruction.” — William S. McFeely, New York Times Book Review
  • Foner “is excellent at delineating the dominant ideologies and linking them to political events. . . . Foner also recognizes the early importance of intersectional political parties in resisting and containing sectional confrontation, but he emphasizes their demise in the face of popular sectional ideologies. . . . This is an important and invigorating work.” — J. H. Silbey, American Historical Review about “Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War”
  • The Story of American Freedom “is layered in complexity. It approaches brilliance in relating the efforts of many Americans to advance freedom for everyone, of others to advance it for themselves…. Foner relishes ‘freedom’ as much as the next man — Robert H. Ferrell, National Review
  • “And, like the pragmatic American that he is, is not inclined to define it. Definition, after all, means assigning limits, which is precisely what Foner does not want to do. On the contrary, his particular contribution has been to illustrate the chameleon-like quality of freedom and to suggest the diverse, elusive, mercurial nature of the concept…. it is no small thing for a high-profile American historian to undertake a work of creative synthesis. It was also courageous for someone with intellectual roots in the mid-nineteenth century to write a book containing over 200 pages on the twentieth. What Foner has produced is not a simple, linear story, but one in which the nature and meaning of its central concept, freedom, is constantly up for grabs.” — Daniel Snowman in History Today about “The Story of American Freedom”

    Basic Facts

    Teaching & Professional Positions:

    Eric Foner JPGDeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University, l988-present;
    Professor, Department of History, Columbia University, l982-88;
    Professor, Department of History, City College and Graduate Center, City University of New York, 1973-82;
    Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Cambridge University, l980-8l;
    Fulbright Professor of American History, Moscow State University, Spring l990;
    Harmsworth Professor of American History, Oxford University, 1993-94;
    Leverhulme Visiting Scholar, Queen Mary, University of London, Spring 2008.

    Area of Research:

    The Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and 19th-century America


    Ph.D. – Columbia University 1969
    B.A. First Class – Oriel College, Oxford University 1965
    B.A. – Columbia College 1963

    Major Publications:

    • Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, 1995.
    • Nat Turner (“Great Lives Observed” series), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1971.
    • Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1976.
    • Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1980.
    • Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1983.
    • Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (“New American Nation” series), Harper and Row (New York, NY), 1988.
    • A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863-1877, Harper and Row (New York, NY), 1990.
    • (With Olivia Mahoney) A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
    • The Tocsin of Freedom: The Black Leadership of Radical Reconstruction, Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA), 1992.
    • Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1993, revised edition, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1996.
    • Slavery and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
    • (With Olivia Mahoney) America’s Reconstruction: People and Politics after the Civil War, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1995.
    • The Story of American Freedom, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 1998.
    • Who Owns History? Rethinking the Past in a Changing World, Hill & Wang (New York, NY), 2002.
    • The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2010

    Editor / Joint Editor:

    • America’s Black Past: A Reader in Afro-American History, Harper and Row (New York, NY), 1971.
    • Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 1990.
    • The New American History (“Critical Perspectives on the Past” series), Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1990, revised edition, 1997.
    • (With John A. Garraty) The Reader’s Companion to American History, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1991.
    • Thomas Paine: Collected Writings, Library of America, 1995.
    • (With wife, Lynn Garafola) Dance for a City: Fifty Years of the New York City Ballet, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
    • (With Alan Taylor; and general editor of entire series) American Colonies (“Penguin History of the United States” series, book one), Viking (New York, NY), 2001.

    Contributor to Books:

    Author of introductions and forewords in books by others, including the foreword of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman, University of California Press; Contributor to the Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History and of articles and reviews to numerous periodicals, including the New York Times, New York Review of Books, Journal of American History, Journal of Negro History, and New York History.


    Prizes for Reconstruction: Los Angeles Times Book Award for History; Bancroft Prize; Parkman Prize; Lionel Trilling Award; Owsley Prize. Finalist, National Book Award; Finalist, National Book Critics’ Circle Award.
    Outstanding Reference Book, New York Public Library; and Library Journal, for Reader’s Companion to American History.
    Awards for A House Divided exhibition, Chicago Historical Society: Lawrence W. Towner Award, Illinois Humanities Council; James Harvey Robinson Prize, AHA.
    Award of Merit, American Association for State and Local History, for America’s Reconstruction exhibition.
    Order of Lincoln, Lincoln Academy of Illinois, 2009.
    John Jay Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement, Columbia College Alumni Association, 2007.
    President, Society of American Historians, 2006-07.
    Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching, Columbia University, 2006.
    Kidger Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship, New England History Teachers Association, 2006
    Silver Gavel Award, American Bar Association, 2005 for “Brown at Fifty,” special issue, The Nation, ed. Eric Foner and Randall Kennedy.
    Featured in Current Biography, August 2004, 50-55
    Featured in History Today, January 2000, 26-29
    Class of 2006 Distinguished Professor Award, April 2004
    First Place, Electronic Product of 2003, for Columbia American History Online, Association of American Publishers.
    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Iona College, 2002.
    President, American Historical Association, 2000.
    Elected Corresponding Fellow, British Academy, 1996.
    Scholar of the Year, N. Y. Council for the Humanities, 1995.
    President, Organization of American Historians, 1993-94.
    Great Teacher Award, Society of Columbia Graduates, 1991.
    Elected member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, l989.
    National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowships, l982-83, 1996-97.
    Guggenheim Fellowship, l975-76.
    American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, l972-73.

    Additional Info:

    Foner is one of only two persons to serve as President of the Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians.
    Eric Foner JPGHe has also been the curator of several museum exhibitions, including the prize-winning “A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln,” A House Divided exhibit, Chicago Historical Society, and America’s Reconstruction, traveling exhibition, originating at Virginia Historical Society.
    Authored articles, essays and book reviews in numerous academic and popular journals, magazines, and newspapers.
    Rewrote Hall of Presidents presentation, Disney World, 1993.
    Historical Consultant, The Civil War, Broadway musical, 1999.
    He serves on the editorial boards of Past and Present and The Nation, and has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, London Review of Books, and many other publications, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including Charlie Rose, Book Notes, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Bill Moyers Journal, Fresh Air, and All Things Considered, and in historical documentaries on PBS and the History Channel. He was the on-camera historian for “Freedom: A History of Us,” on PBS in 2003.

Posted on Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 6:03 PM

History Doyens: John Hope Franklin


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009, 3-30-09

What They’re Famous For

John Hope Franklin died at March 25, 2009 at the age of 94, Franklin was the doyen of African American history. However, as Franklin claimed “the history of Black people in America is American history.” And that it “not separated so that it isn’t accorded the respect that it deserves from other scholars.”

Franklin lived through America’s most defining twentieth-century transformation, the dismantling of legally-protected racial segregation. A renowned scholar, he explored that transformation in its myriad aspects, notably in his 3.5 million-copy bestseller, From Slavery to Freedom. And he was an active participant.
John Hope Franklin JPGBorn in 1915, he, like every other African American, could not but participate: he was evicted from whites-only train cars, confined to segregated schools, threatened-once with lynching-and consistently met with racism’s denigration of his humanity. And yet he managed to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard, become the first black historian to assume a full-professorship at a white institution, Brooklyn College, be appointed chair of the University of Chicago’s history department and, later, John B. Duke Professor at Duke University. He has reshaped the way African American history is understood and taught and become one of the world’s most celebrated historians, garnering over 130 honorary degrees. But Franklin’s participation was much more fundamental than that.

From his effort in 1934 to hand President Franklin Roosevelt a petition calling for action in response to the Cordie Cheek lynching, to his 1997 appointment by President Clinton to head the President’s Initiative on Race, and continuing to the present, Franklin has influenced with determination and dignity the nation’s racial conscience. Whether aiding Thurgood Marshall’s preparation for arguing Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, marching to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, or testifying against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987, Franklin has pushed the national conversation on race towards humanity and equality, a life-long effort that earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1995.
“I think this will be in a class by itself.” Obama’s campaign “is the most radical, far-reaching, significant [undertaking] by any individual or group in our history,” he said. “This strikes at the very heart of national ideology on race and the political patterns of this country’s history.”

Adapted from John Hope Franklin’s author biography from his memoir “Mirror to America” Published in November 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Excerpt from Mirror to America

No Crystal Stair

Living in a world restricted by laws defining race, as well as creating obstacles, disadvantages, and even superstitions regarding race, challenged my capacities for survival. For ninety years I have witnessed countless men and women likewise meet this challenge. Some bested it; some did not; many had to settle for any accommodation they could. I became a student and eventually a scholar. And it was armed with the tools of scholarship that I strove to dismantle those laws, level those obstacles and disadvantages, and replace superstitions with humane dignity. Along with much else, the habits of scholarship granted me something many of my similarly striving contemporaries did not have. I knew, or should say know, what we are up against.

Slavery was a principal centerpiece of the New World Order that set standards of conduct including complicated patterns of relationships. These lasted not merely until emancipations but after Reconstruction and on into the twentieth century. Many of them were still very much in place when beginning in the late 1950s, the sit-ins, marches, and the black revolution began a successful onslaught on some of the antediluvian practices that had become a part of the very fabric of society in the New World and American society in particular.

Born in 1915, I grew up in a racial climate that was stifling to my senses and damaging to my emotional health and social well-being. Society at that time presented a challenge to the strongest adult, and to a child it was not merely difficult but cruel. I watched my mother and father, who surely numbered among the former, daily meet that challenge; I and my three siblings felt equally that cruelty. And it was no more possible to escape that environment of racist barbarism than one today can escape the industrial gases that pollute the atmosphere.

This climate touched me at every stage of my life. I was forcibly removed from a train at the age of six for having accidentally taken a seat in the “white people’s coach.” I was the unhappy victim, also at age six, of a race riot that kept the family divided for more than four years. I endured the very strict segregation laws and practices in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was rejected as a guide through busy downtown Tulsa traffic by a blind white woman when she discovered that the twelve-year-old at her side was black. I underwent the harrowing experience as a sixteen-year-old college freshman of being denounced in the most insulting terms for having the temerity to suggest to a white ticket seller a convenient way to make change. More harrowing yet was the crowd of rural white men who confronted and then nominated me as a possible Mississippi lynching victim when I was nineteen. I was refused service while on a date as a Harvard University graduate student at age twenty-one. Racism in the navy turned my effort to volunteer during World War II into a demeaning embarrassment, such that at a time when the United States was ostensibly fighting for the Four Freedoms I struggled to evade the draft. I was called a “Harvard nigger” at age forty. At age forty-five, because of race, New York banks denied me a loan to purchase a home. At age sixty I was ordered to serve as a porter for a white person in a New York hotel, at age eighty to hang up a white guest’s coat at a Washington club where I was not an employee but a member.

John Hope Franklin JPG To these everyday, ordinary experiences during ninety years in the American race jungle should be added the problem of trying to live in a community where the economic and social odds clearly placed any descendant of Africans at a disadvantage. For a profession, my father, Buck Franklin, proudly chose the practice of law. Depending as it did on the judicial system in which it operated, the practice of law in America could not possibly have functioned favorably or even fairly for a person who qualified as, at best, a pariah within it. My father, ever the optimist, persisted in holding the view that the practice of law was a noble pursuit whose nobility entailed the privilege of working to rectify a system that contained a set of advantages for white people and a corresponding set of disadvantages for black people. The integrity and the high moral standards by which he lived and that he commended to his children forbade him to violate the law or resort to any form of unethical conduct. And, as children, we had to adjust ourselves to dignified, abject poverty.

My mother, Mollie, shared these views, to which she added a remarkable amount of creativity and resourcefulness in her effort to supplement the family income and boost the family morale. She taught in public schools, made hats, and developed a line of beauty aids. To these creative skills should be added her equanimity, her sense of fairness, her high standards of performance, and her will to succeed. On many occasions she would say to me, “If you do your best, the angels cannot do any better!” These qualities became the hallmark of her relationship with her four children, giving us the strength and skills to cope with the formidable odds she knew we would encounter. If we did not always succeed, it was not the fault of our parents.

But the challenges I, my brother, Buck, and my sisters, Mozella and Anne, faced were always formidable. Living through years of remarkable change, the barrier of race was a constant. With the appearance of each new institution or industry, racism would rear its ugly head again. When the age of the automobile made its debut, there was the question of whether African Americans should be given the opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to find work within that industry. It was the same with the advent of the computer age. More than one company dragged its feet when it came to making certain that young people on “both sides of the track” had an opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to be successful participants in the new scientific revolution. Indeed, the expansion of numerous American industries caused debates or at least discussions regarding the abilities of African Americans to cope with new developments, whatever they were. Even at the end of the twentieth century, many Americans continued to debate nineteenth-century racial theories regarding the abilities of blacks to see at night, to make accurate calculations, and to learn foreign languages. These debates ranged from discussions having to do with the effect of African Americans on the growth of the gross national product to their ability to resist new diseases or their capacity to adjust to new educational or cultural developments. Throughout a life spent at the intersection of scholarship and public service, I have been painfully aware that superstitions and quaint notions of biological and even moral differences between blacks and whites continue to affect race relations in the United States—even into the twenty-first century.

In 1943 Gunnar Myrdal called attention to these discussions and debates over racial differences in his classic American Dilemma. And when the Committee on the Status of Black Americans, of which I was a member, took another look in 1989 while updating Myrdal’s book, we saw much the same thing and set forth these and other views in A Common Destiny: Blacks and American Society. In our discussion of the problem of race, we declared that it could well create new fissures that might, in turn, lead to an increased level of confrontations and violence. The Rodney King riots of 1991 offered vivid testimony that there still persists much too much potential for racial conflict for anyone to be complacent.

Of the many recollections I have arising from my fifteen months as chair of President Clinton’s advisory board on race is that of the black woman who screamed during a meeting her history of how she had been abused and mistreated because of her race. My memory of the white man who claimed that already too much was being done for African Americans, and it was he who needed protection from policies such as affirmative action, is no less vivid. The advisory board was troubled by these and similar competing claims, and it became clear that open dialogues and, if necessary, limitless discussions were the civilized approach to finding constructive ways of dealing with America’s racial ills. It did and will require not only persistent diligence but also abiding patience.

John Hope Franklin JPGDuring my life it has been necessary to work not only as hard as my energies would permit, but to do it as regularly and as consistently as humanly possible. This involved the strictest discipline in the maximum use of my time and energy. I worked two jobs in college and graduate school that made inordinate demands on my time, but there was no alternative to the regimen that circumstances demanded. And those circumstances included a refusal to check my catholic interests that have always prompted me to participate in activities beyond scholarship. Balancing professional and personal activities has resulted in a life full of rich rewards, a consequence deeply indebted to my near sixty-year marriage to Aurelia Whittington. My father called her the Trooper for her patient, good-willed, indomitable spirit. She was that and so much more. How do I calculate the influence of having spent two-thirds of my life living alongside an exemplar of selfless dignity?

Even before we were married, I learned much from Aurelia. She taught me to put others ahead of my own preference, as she did routinely. There is no more vivid example of her habit of self-sacrifice than when she abandoned her own career. She did so in order to be there for Whit, our only child, when our adult Brooklyn neighbors taunted him and sought in every way possible to convey that neither he nor his family was welcome to live in their previously all-white neighborhood.

My life has been dedicated to and publicly defined by scholarship, a lifelong affection for the profession of history and the myriad institutions that support it. A white professor at historically black Fisk University powerfully influenced my choice of a career, one I decided early on to dedicate to new areas of study, wherever possible, in order to maintain a lively, fresh approach to teaching and writing history. This is how I happened to get into African American history, in which I never had a formal course but that attracted an increasing number of students of my generation and many more in later generations. But I was determined that I would not be confined to a box of any kind, so I regarded African American history as not so much a separate field as a subspecialty of American history. Even in graduate school I was interested in women’s history, and in more recent years I have studied and written papers in that field, although I never claimed more than the desire to examine it intensely rather than presume to master it entirely.

I could not work in the field of history without maintaining some contact with other historians and some affiliation with historical associations. Consequently, at the Library of Congress and in local libraries where I was engaged in research, I made a point of meeting other historians and discussing with them matters of mutual interest. I not only maintained an active membership in the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History but joined other groups, even where it became necessary to educate members, to the extent possible, that history knows no bounds, either in the human experience or in the rules governing who is eligible to record it. This would not, could not involve demeaning myself or in any way compromising my own self-respect. On occasion it did involve venturing into groups and organizations when it was not clear if their reception of me would be cool or cordial. Nevertheless, as a consequence I became active in the major national professional organizations long before most other African Americans joined them.

In much the same way, I became involved with historical groups in other parts of the world. My ever-widening contacts in the United States presented me with opportunities to become associated with historians in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America. Each contact was instructive not only about the many things that peoples of the world have in common but also as to the intense interest other peoples have in problems and developments far removed from their own that would nevertheless assist them in understanding their own society. A remarkable and unforeseen result of my determination to pursue my profession wherever it led, be that into the halls of previously all-white academic associations or to the far-flung scholarly organizations scattered across the globe, were the contacts that released me from the straitjacket confinement of pursuing a career exclusively in historically black colleges and universities.

My life and my career have been fulfilled not merely by my own efforts but also by the thoughtful generosity of family, friends, and professional colleagues. I can only hope that they realize, as do I, how interdependent we all are and how much more rewarding and fulfilling life is whenever we reach a level of understanding where we can fully appreciate the extent of our interrelationships with and our reliance on those who came before us, kept us company during our lives, and will come after us.

Excerpted from Mirror to America by John Hope Franklin. Copyright © 2005 by John Hope Franklin. Publishes in November 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


By John Hope Franklin

  • “This is one of the most historic moments-if not the most historic moment-in the history of the country.” — Franklin commented after Barack Obama was elected the United States’ first black president in a video.
  • “My challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly. That was terribly important.” — John Hope Franklin in 1997 at the 50th Anniversary of his definitive account of the black experience in America, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans.”
  • A FULL CENTURY has elapsed since Abraham Lincoln signed the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. A large number of people were participants in the drama that culminated in the signing: members of the Cabinet, members of Congress, Negroes, religious and civic leaders, military leaders and common soldiers, clerks and telegraph operators. Many of them have left accounts of their experiences and observations, but few if any were in a position to tell the full story. Thus, we have from the participants who left some record of their role mere fragments. And none of them was able to see the Emancipation Proclamation in its broader context and significance. Without the vantage point provided by time, they could hardly be expected to have the objectivity and perspective that the span of one hundred years provides. But without their accounts the historian would be in no position to tell the story.
    While historians have dealt with the Proclamation as a phase or an aspect of the Civil War, they have given scant attention to the evolution of the document in the mind of Lincoln, the circumstances and conditions thatled to its writing, its impact on the course of the war at home and abroad, and its significance for later generations. A few have devoted considerable attention to the Proclamation. In his The Great Proclamation Henry Steele Commager has written a delightful, brief account for children. Benjamin Quarles covers the matter in his Lincoln and the Negro but his interest properly extends far beyond the Proclamation. Charles Eberstadt has written a valuable article, “The Emancipation Proclamation,” that deals largely with the texts of thenumerous manuscripts and printed drafts of the document.
    The ramifications as well as the implications of the Emancipation Proclamation seem endless, and many of them have doubtless escaped me. But I have sought to deal here with the principal outlines of the history of the document and to indicate its general significance to contemporary as well as to later generations. As a war measure its significance is, perhaps, fairly well known. As a moral force during and after the war, its importance is, to some students of the period, elusive. As a great American document of freedom it has been greatly neglected. In these and other ways I have sought to place it in its setting and give it its proper evaluation.
    John Hope Franklin in “Reconstruction after the Civil War”
  • Despite the large number of books and articles touching on the subject, there is still no full-length study of runaway slaves. In fact, much of the scholarship about slave resistance continues to be dominated by the conceptual framework and the focus presented by Herbert Aptheker more than a half-century ago: “The Machinery Runaway Slaves JPG of Control,” “Early Plots and Rebellions,” “The Turner Cataclysm and Some Repercussions,” and “The Civil War Years.” Perhaps no book has “exercised such dominion over a subject of prime importance,” Genovese writes, as American Negro Slave Revolts. Peter Kolchin recently observed, however, that Aptheker probably exaggerated the extent of slave unrest. He lamented that there is still no adequate study of slave resistance or slave flight.
    We have undertaken an extensive examination of “slave flight” between 1790 and 1860. It reveals, among other things, some problems of management of the South’s “peculiar institution.” It shows how a significant number of slaves challenged the system and how the great majority of them struggled to attain their freedom even if they failed.
    The price they paid for their unwillingness to submit was obviously enormous. This study reveals how slave owners marshaled considerable effort to prevent the practice of running away, meted out punishments to slaves who disregarded the rules, and established laws and patrols to control the movement of slaves. It also exposes the violence and cruelty that were inherent in the slave system. Indeed, it shows, perhaps better than any other approach, how slaves resisted with various forms of violence and how slave owners responded, at times brutally, to demonstrate their authority over their human chattel.
    Even today important aspects of the history of slavery remain shrouded in myth and legend. Many people still believe that slaves were generally content, that racial violence on the plantation was an aberration, and that the few who ran away struck out for the Promised Land in the North or Canada. We have carefully scrutinized those who challenged the system; when, where, and how they ran away; how long they remained out; how they survived away from the plantation; and how and when they were brought back and punished. We examine the motives of absentees, or those who left the farm or plantation for a few days or weeks; the incentives of outlyers, or those who hid out in the woods for months, sometimes years; and the activities of maroons, who established camps in remote swamps and bayous. We also examine how “term slaves,” or those to be emancipated at a future date, responded to their status and how free blacks assisted their brethren and on occasion themselves became runaways.
    Of equal importance, we seek to analyze the motives and responses of the slaveholding class and other whites. How did owners react to such intransigence in their midst? How did they attempt to halt the flow of runaways? What laws did they seek to enact? What punishments did they administer? How successfully did they curtail such dissidence? Indeed, it is less important to discover what happened to individual slaves than to understand the relationship between the owners and the runaways who challenged the system, a relationship that reveals perhaps as well as any perspective the true nature of the South’s peculiar institution.
    John Hope Franklin in “Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation”

John Hope Franklin in Memoriam

  • “Because of the life John Hope Franklin lived, the public service he rendered, and the scholarship that was the mark of his distinguished career, we all have a richer understanding of who we are as Americans and our journey as a people. Dr. Franklin will be deeply missed. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to his loved ones, as our nation mourns his loss.” — President Barack Obama
  • “John Hope Franklin was one of the most important American historians of the 20th century and one of the people I most admired. I was honored he agreed to be the head of the President’s Initiative on Race. He led his committee all over America to listen to people of all races, faiths, cultures, and classes. And he produced a remarkable report on the ways in which we remain divided along color lines and what we can do about it. During the process, we became friends and I learned a lot from him about history, politics, and life. He graced our country with his life, his scholarship, and his citizenship. Hillary and I will miss him very much. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family and friends.” — Former President Bill Clinton
  • Today we mourn the passing of one of our nation’s most distinguished scholars, historian John Hope Franklin. His academic and civic contributions helped integrate the African-American narrative into American history – reflecting one of our nation’s most cherished goals of creating a stronger and more united America. The author of the landmark study of African Americans, From Slavery to Freedom, Professor Franklin chaired the history departments at Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago, before becoming James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University. The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke remain as permanent monuments to his contributions in academia and public policy. John Hope Franklin successfully bridged the gap between theory and practice. That was never more evident than his scholarly work on President Bill Clinton’s Task Force on Race – for which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, his invaluable work on the history of African Americans, and his seminal research used in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education. Let us honor the lasting legacy of John Hope Franklin by maintaining the vibrancy of our nation through our commitment to progress and equality for all.” — Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement on the passing of renowned historian John Hope Franklin.
  • “The preeminent voice and witness for America’s sojourn from slavery to freedom has been silenced physically. But his writings, research, interpretation and legacy will live forever. I talked with him as a student and walked the University of Chicago campus with him. He was who I went to first for advice and counsel. All of his students felt that we were his prize possession. He mad us feel that way. In the family of American historians he sits in a high seat and occupies a high place.” — Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition
  • “His work helped make possible an expansion of freedom and justice that has continued from Brown v. Board … to last fall’s election. We are all diminished by his loss.” — Drew Gilpin Faust
  • “He was working in a profession that more or less banned him at the outset and ended up its leading practitioner. And yet, he always managed to keep his grace and his sense of humor.” — Tim Tyson, a history professor at Duke
  • “I think about a phrase my father uses a gentleman and a scholar. He was both of those things. His honesty and his integrity and his restraint were coupled with a passionate devotion to his craft and to his country. He had a fierce sense of commitment to public scholarship, the kind of scholarship that matters.” — Tim Tyson, Duke University history professor and author
  • “John Hope Franklin lived for nearly a century and helped define that century. A towering historian, he led the recognition that African-American history and American history are one. With his grasp of the past, he spent a lifetime building a future of inclusiveness, fairness and equality. Duke has lost a great citizen and a great friend.” — Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead
  • “John Hope Franklin personified the dignity, empowerment and faith of a generation of African-Americans who persisted, and succeeded, in making their country live up to its promise as a land of equal opportunity. He never permitted anyone to take away his dignity or sense of self. … He was a wonderful mentor, a dear friend and a colleague who loved to celebrate the achievements of his fellow scholars. He will be sorely missed.” — William Chafe, Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of History, Duke University
  • “One of the great stories of his life is his dignity in the face of the kind of rampant racism that existed. When he first did research at Duke in the 1940s, he could use the manuscript collection, but he could not eat his lunch or use the bathroom because it was segregated. And he never lost his sense of empowerment in the face of that kind of treatment.” — Bill Chafe, past president of Organization of American Historians and a history professor at Duke
  • “By always telling the truth to America and the world about history, he steered our conscience in such a way that constantly made it uncomfortable to accept the status quo. He reminded us that we must do more than merely apologize for the pain of the past, but we also must make amends.” — William Barber, state chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  • “John Hope Franklin was a tremendous leader, historian and friend to North Carolina and to the nation. He personified giving and his work to advance the understanding of African-American contributions was unmatched by any other. He will be sadly missed.” — North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue
  • “With the passing of John Hope Franklin, North Carolina has lost a great scholar and a moral compass for all of us. He inspired with his words and with his teaching, and he set an unsurpassed example of courage, leadership and commitment. From John Hope Franklin we learned about history, but we also learned the way to chart a new path of justice and opportunity for our state and our nation.” — North Carolina Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton
  • “Dr. Franklin was a worldwide figure, a seminal author and a man of immeasurable insight. We were privileged in North Carolina for so long to have near immediate access to such a rich mind. We will all miss his lessons and we mourn for his loss.” — North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney
  • “I worked with John Hope Franklin and was inspired by him. His values were infectious. Through his example and his writings, he helped me to see more clearly the struggles of African-Americans and the continuing obligation we all have to bring about true equal opportunity for all Americans. He was a great, great man.” — Erskine Bowles, University of North Carolina system President
  • “The world has lost a brilliant scholar. A proud Oklahoman, John Hope Franklin was among the greatest historians of our time. His seminal work, From Slavery to Freedom, is one of the great books of the 20th century, but John Hope Franklin’s entire life was dedicated to the pursuit of truth. I was, and am, a devoted admirer of his work. This remarkable, legendary man will be sorely missed, but his contributions to our understanding of history will last forever.” — Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry
  • “Dr. Franklin’s voice will certainly not be silenced by his passing. His legacy is one that will live on through his passion for educating the generations of Americans who have sought his wisdom.” — Julius Pegues, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation
  • “I cannot think of anyone whose scholarly work and passion has enlightened America with more impact on issues related to equity, excellence and diversity. The legacy he leaves is immeasurable.” — Charlie Nelms, chancellor of North Carolina Central University
  • “Those of us lucky enough to have shared his University of Chicago years recall his boundless energy, his fairness and probity, and his good humor as he was simultaneously leading a department, traveling the world, running agencies, serving on commissions, giving countless lectures, and offering counsel. John Hope enjoyed people, and people enjoyed John Hope. Everything he did, from his cooking to his orchid growing, was extraordinary. Lucky indeed it was to know him and be put in touch with the energies and spirit of a great man.” — Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago
  • “John Hope Franklin was an iconic historian who achieved the pinnacle of success in his professional life and whose work will live on for many years to come. His distinguished career as a public servant and scholar are an inspiration to so many. Dr. Franklin shattered barriers that seem unimaginable in todays world, and he did so with elegance and perseverance. North Carolina was fortunate to count this fine individual among its residents. Our nation lost one of the most brilliant minds of a generation in Dr. Franklin, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time.” — Senator Kay R. Hagan (D-NC) and Representative David Price (NC-4) today announcing similar resolutions in their respective chambers honoring North Carolina historian John Hope Franklin
  • “Dr. Franklins scholarship, from St. Augustines and North Carolina College in the 1930s and 40s to his distinguished careers at Chicago and Duke, showed that African-American history is inseparable from any telling of the American story. We honor his tremendous contributions to American history, but his legacy is not only the study of the past. The greater understanding he fostered lights a path for present and future citizens to live together in a more unified nation. Lisa and I join North Carolina and the nation in grieving his loss. From his beloved orchids to his wise counsel, he shared his friendship generously and will be greatly missed.” — Representative David Price (NC-4)
  • “As a premiere historian, John Hope Franklin made immeasurable contributions by educating us on the integral role that Africans and African-Americans played in American history. As an activist, John Hope Franklin was an active mentor and educator of the leaders of the civil rights movement as well as an unapologetic advocate for full and equal citizenship. As a friend, he was a mentor and truly wonderful spirit and inspiration to me and my wife. I am deeply saddened by the loss of such a monumental figure. But I am also consoled by the fact that he lived and used every minute of his life for the most outstanding, decent and noble purposes.” — Rep. Mel Watt (NC-12)
  • “John Hope Franklin was a great educator, historian and humanitarian. He dedicated his entire life to trying to bring people together to make the world a better place.” Rep. Bob Etheridge (NC-2).
  • “John Hope Franklin changed the way we look at our history. American history is not just the story of European settlers and their descendents. Franklin made sure that the story of American history included the contributions and experiences of all Americans.” — Representative Brad Miller (NC-13)
  • “John Hope Franklins lifetime of work was crucial to America coming to the understanding that history would be incomplete without African Americans, and that America could only become whole by confronting the lingering ghosts of slavery and segregation.” — Rep. G.K. Butterfield (NC-1)
  • “I am saddened by the death of Dr. John Hope Franklin, yet I know future generations will celebrate the accomplishments of his life. He was an American treasure.” — Rep. Larry Kissell (NC-8)

About John Hope Franklin’s Scholarship

  • “A pioneer scholar; a splendid humanist and a shining model to generations of students, scholars, and activists.” — David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 1994
  • “There had really been nothing like the book that John Hope Franklin wrote in 1942, “From Slavery to Freedom.” Before that book appeared, there had been efforts to sum up the experience, the odyssey, of people of color in North America. Du Bois of course, W.E.B. Du Bois had made an impressive effort as had several others. But Franklin’s synoptic history, beginning in 1619, and as it was amended as the years passed – I think perhaps, we’re in the eight or ninth edition up to the day before yesterday – gave the full experience in its many dimensions – but handily so. Accessibly written, deeply sourced – indeed the documents at the end of “From Slavery to Freedom” gave graduate students perhaps all they needed to launch their own researches. It was a book that made black studies, as it was called in its initial period, or African American history – now called diasporic studies – gave it its launch pad. And so he really was seminal from that perspective of enabling a sub- field, an ignored field, to become indeed one of the primary pursuits of (unintelligible) research. — Professor DAVID LEVERING LEWIS (New York University; Pulitzer Prize winner)
  • I absolutely remember it because it was the second thickest book on my parents’ den shelves. The other one was the Bible. But I remember growing up and seeing that book there and eventually leafing through it myself, and the first edition, hard-bound is a think book, and I just remember being impressed that, as my father told me, who was a fan of historians, that one man wrote that book, one negro man, which was the day, the word of the time. And I have to believe that my just astounding understanding of what it meant for him to regard John Hope Franklin with that honored place on the family den bookshelf meant a great deal to me and my own scholarly endeavors. So I discovered the book before I discovered the man, and when I came to Duke University, my parents would always say that she’s at John Hope Franklin’s university, and that was enough for me to have earned some honor in the eye of my parents. — Professor KARLA HOLLOWAY (Co-founder; John Hope Franklin Center)on NPR
  • Well, I visited John Hope Franklin at Brooklyn College the year he became the chair of the history department there, and this was such a notable event in race relations and in scholarship that I think it was announced on the front page of the New York Times. I knew of him because we shared a professor, a history professor, at Fisk University, one who had influenced my life and the course which it followed, and I knew that John Hope Franklin had become a historian in large part because of the influence of this remarkable history professor. And so to meet him, the flesh-and-blood man, I entered into his office as though into something of a sanctuary. Well, he soon dispelled that kind of reverential atmosphere that was in my mind, and as Karla says, he was a wonderful combination of gravitas and levity. Those two words really are antonyms, and yet they do express his personality, which was one that always addressed major issues in a kind of demotic way. One understood why they were important. You not only understood the issue, but you understood why the issue had to matter. John was perhaps a precursor of this much bandied-about term, public intellectual. Before that tripped off everybody’s tongue to describe lots of people, he had already ventured from the narrow…ivory tower, and into marching from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King. And before that, of course, leading a group of historians to ascertain what was in the minds of the congressional authors of the constitutional amendments, 14th and 15th, in order to strengthen the argument of the NAACP before the Supreme Court. And of course with the conversation on race enterprise that President Clinton… I think that you have to remember each and every one of them because he was a complicated and a – a citizen of the world. He made sure that his intelligence and interest reached far beyond the local to the global, and yet he was loved. That’s what I’ll remember about him. — Professor DAVID LEVERING LEWIS (New York University; Pulitzer Prize winner)
  • When one reads From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, by JohnHope Franklin, the immediate impression, and for me, appreciation, is that here is a scholar with honesty and purpose who is, in effect standing in loco parentis of the crucial facts about the African Americans’ past, present and future effect on the American system. As in his other writings, whether it is The Free Negro in North Carolina, 1790-1860; Race and History; Selected Essays — 1938-1988; Racial Equality in America; Reconstruction After the Civil War; African Americans and The Living Constitution; his biography of George Washington Williams; or other selections from his fertile mind and productive pen, the comprehensive investigation of the African in America, from the gray and pale days of slavery to the still-cloudy days of near-freedom is presented with such vitality and scholarly authority that those who dare play fast and loose with the facts are compelled to take notice; and more often than not, to return to their so urces for further discussion and interpretation. — Professor Percy R. Luney, Jr. North Carolina Central University School of Law September 19, 1997
  • “Those African-Americans who teach in typically underfinanced black colleges today confront the same heavy teaching loads that Franklin bore, all the while insisting on continuing his research and scholarship.” — Mary Frances Berry reflected on Mr. Franklin’s career
  • “My fondest dream would be to create a work of scholarship in the field of African American literature as germinal, as salient, as compelling, and as timeless as From Slavery to Freedom.” — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University about “From Slavery to Freedom”
  • “John Hope Franklin is a true role model. He embodies the native optimism, i.e., that one can go from slavery to freedom, from ignorance to intelligence, can experience cruelty, yet manifest kindness. In Mirror to America, each citizen can see herself and himself, reflected in the life of this great American.” — Maya Angelou
  • “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin is an astonishing beautiful, deeply intelligent record of an extraordinary life. Required reading lest we forget what is possible in a race-based society.” — Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature
  • “With his remarkable sense of humanity, renowned historian John Hope Franklin shares his life journey – an odyssey marked by scholarship, public service, and his passionate commitment to improve the condition of African Americans and their relations with their fellow citizens. Through candid stories of Franklin’s relentless pursuit of equality, Mirror to America calls upon all Americans to look at our nation’s past so that we may destroy the color line that continues to divide our country, and progress together into the future.” — President William Jefferson Clinton
  • “This is the most important autobiography of the year! John Hope Franklin is a national treasure. Mirror to America is cause for a national celebration. For me, and countless others, Dr. Franklin is a mentor and role-model without peer, a man whose clear-eyed look into our past improved America’s future. Mirror to America will lift the spirit and steel our resolve for the work ahead.” — Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Senior Manager and Director Lazard LTD and author of Vernon Can Read
  • “John Hope Franklin’s story is a triumphant one, at once a chronicle of America’s progress in civil rights over the past ninety years and a stirring reminder of the determination still needed to confront the country’s remaining barriers to racial equality. He has inspired his students for decades; now, with Mirror to America, he offers inspiration to us all.” — David N. Dinkins, 106th Mayor, City of New York
  • “John Hope Franklin’s Mirror to America is a singular document, a great historian’s autobiography that will serve as an indispensable history of our times. Read and reflect, indeed!” — David Levering Lewis, Pulizer Prize winner, Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History, NYU
  • “In Search of the Promised Land is a unique and exciting addition to the literature on slavery and nineteenth-century history. It shows the complexity of slave life and challenges existing historical interpretations without completely overturning the studies of the last thirty years. . . . I love the story itself–what a story!” — James Fuller, University of Indianapolis
  • “The book’s focus on the Thomas-Rapier family provides for one of the more vivid presentations of antebellum race relations I have seen. So much of scholarship on slave life tends to lose sight of individuals who had to confront life in a slave society. This book brings individuals back into the picture.” — Dickson D. Bruce, University of Irvine California
  • “No one has yet explored the fugitives’ world and its meaning for the slave experience more deeply and with greater sophistication than [the authors]….[This book] greatly enhances our understanding of the system of slavery….” — Los Angeles Times Book Review
  • “Using documentation from broadsheets to diaries, the authors provide incredible details of who the runaways were, their motivations and destinations, and how their efforts failed or succeeded. Franklin and Schweninger provide very personal accounts, giving names and personalities to an aspect of U.S. slavery that is seldom portrayed and refuting the mythology of the contented slave.” — Booklist

Basic Facts

John Hope Franklin JPGTeaching & Professional Positions:

Fisk University, Nashville, TN, instructor, 1936-37;
St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, NC, instructor, 1938-43;
North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), Durham, NC, instructor in history, 1943-47;
Howard University, Washington, DC, professor of history, 1947-56;
Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, professor of history and chair of department, 1956-64;
Fulbright professor, Australia, 1960;
University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, professor of history, 1964-82, chair of history department, 1967-70;
John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor, 1969-82, professor emeritus, 1982–Duke University, Durham, NC, James B. Duke Professor of History, 1982-85, professor emeritus, 1985–.

Also, Fulbright distinguished lecturer, Zimbabwe, 1986;
Visiting professor at University of California, Harvard University, University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, University of Hawaii, Australia National University, Salzburg (Austria) Seminar, and other institutions;
Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, Cambridge University, 1962-63.
Board of Foreign Scholarships, member, 1962-69, chair, 1966-69;
National Council on Humanities, member, 1976-79.

Member of board of trustees, Fisk University, 1947-84, Chicago Symphony, 1976-80, National Humanities Center, 1980-91, and De Sable Museum, Chicago University, 1970–;
Member of board of directors, Salzburg Seminar, Museum of Science and Industry, 1968-80.

Advisory board chair, President William Jefferson Clinton’s Special Presidential Commission for One America: The President’s Initiative on Race.
Member of the board of the United States National Slavery Museum, Fredericksburg, VA.

Area of Research:

African American history, Southern history, Race Relations in America


Fisk University, A.B., 1935;
Harvard University, A.M., 1936, Ph.D., 1941.

Major Publications:

  • The Free Negro in North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1943, reprinted with a new foreword and bibliographic afterword by the author, 1995.
  • (With Alfred A. Moss, Jr.) From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1947, reprinted as From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 8th edition, 2000.
  • The Militant South, 1800-1860, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 1956, revised edition, 1970, reprinted, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2002.
  • Reconstruction after the Civil War, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1962, 2nd edition, 1995.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Harlan Davidson (Wheeling, IL), 1995.
  • (With John W. Caughey and Ernest R. May) Land of the Free: A History of the United States, Benziger (Mission Hills, CA), 1965, teacher’s edition, 1971.
  • (With the editors of Time-Life Books) An Illustrated History of Black Americans, Time-Life (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Racial Equality in America, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1976.
  • A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum North, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1976.
  • George Washington Williams: A Biography, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1985, reprinted with a new preface, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1998.
  • Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938-1988, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1990.
  • The Color Line: Legacy for the Twenty-first Century, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1993.
  • (With William M. Banks) Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
  • (With Loren Schweninger) Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
  • (With Loren Schweninger) In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.
  • Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2005.

Editor / Joint Editor:

  • The Civil War Diary of J.T. Ayers, Illinois State Historical Society (Springfield, IL), 1947, reprinted, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1999.
  • Albion Tourgee, A Fool’s Errand, Belknap Press (Cambridge, MA), 1961.
  • T.W. Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1962.
  • Three Negro Classics, Avon (New York, NY), 1965.
  • (With Isadore Starr) The Negro in Twentieth-Century America: A Reader on the Struggle for Civil Rights, Vintage (New York, NY), 1967.
  • Color and Race, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1968.
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1969.
  • John R. Lynch, Reminiscences of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John R. Lynch, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1970.
  • (With August Meier) Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1982.
  • (With Genna Rae McNeil) African Americans and the Living Constitution, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1995.
  • (With John Whittington Franklin) My Life and an Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1997.

Coeditor of American history series for Crowell and AHM Publishing, 1964;
general editor of “Zenith Book” series on secondary education, Doubleday, 1965;
general editor of “Negro American Biographies and Autobiographies” series, University of Chicago Press, 1969;
coeditor of “American History Series,” Harlan Davidson, 1985.

Contributor to Books:

Problems in American History, edited by Arthur S. Link and Richard Leopold, 1952, 2nd revised edition, 1966;
The Negro Thirty Years Afterward, edited by Rayford W. Logan, 1955;
Issues in University Education, edited by Charles Frankel, 1959; Lincoln for the Ages, edited by Ralph Newman, 1960;
The Southerner as American, edited by Charles G. Sellars, Jr., 1960;
Soon One Morning, edited by Herbert Hill, 1963;
The Atlantic Future, edited by H.V. Hodson, 1964;
The South in Continuity and Change, edited by John C. McKinney and Edgar T. Thompson, 1965;
New Frontiers of the American Reconstruction, edited by Harold Hyman, 1966;
An American Primer, edited by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1968;
The Comparative Approach to American History, edited by C. Vann Woodward, 1968;
William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer, edited by William Edward Farrison, 1969;
Henry Ossawa Tanner, American Artist, edited by Marcia M. Mathews, 1969;
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, edited by Alfreda M. Duster, 1970;
Chant of Saints, edited by Michael S. Harper, 1979;
The Voices of Negro Protest in America, edited by William H. Burns, 1980;
A Melting Pot or a Nation of Minorities, edited by Robert L. Payton, 1986;
This Road to Freedom, edited by Eric C. Lincoln, 1990;
American Studies in Black and White: Selected Essays, 1949-1989, edited by Sidney Kaplan and Allan Austin, 1991;
a To Be Free, edited by Herbert Aptheker, 1992.

Author of forewords to history books by others, including Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, 1982; Timuel D. Black, Jr., Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Black Migration, 2003; Judge Robert L. Carter, A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights, 2005; and Harold Holzer, Edna Greene Medford, and Frank J. Williams, The Emancipation Proclamation: Three Views, 2006.

Also author of pamphlets for U.S. Information Service and Anti- Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; contributor of articles to numerous journals and periodicals, including Daedalus.


Edward Austin fellowships, 1937-39;
presidents’ fellowships, Brown University, 1952-53;
Guggenheim fellowships, 1950-51, 1973- 74;
Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences fellowships, 1973-74;
Jules F. Landry Award, 1975, for A Southern Odyssey: Travelers in the Antebellum
Named to Oklahoma Hall of Fame, 1978;
Clarence L. Holte Literary Award, 1986, for George Washington Williams: A Biography;
Cleanth Brooks Medal, Fellowship of Southern Writers, 1989;
Gold Medal, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990;
Caldwell Medal, North Carolina Council on Humanities, 1992 and 1993;
Charles Frankel Medal, 1993;
Bruce Catton Prize from the Society of American Historians and Sidney Hook Award from Phi Beta Kappa, both 1994;
NAACP Spingarn Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, W.E.B. Du Bois Award, Alpha Phi Alpha Award of Merit, and Organization of American Historians Award, all 1995;
American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1997, for Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life; named to Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame, 1997;
Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, 1997;
John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity, 2006.

Recipient of honorary degrees from more than 135 colleges and universities, including: LL.D. from Morgan State University, 1960, Lincoln University, 1961, Virginia State College, 1961, Hamline University, 1965, Lincoln College, 1965, Fisk University, 1965, Columbia University, 1969, University of Notre Dame, 1970, and Harvard University, 1981;
A.M. from Cambridge University, 1962;
L.H.D. from Long Island University, 1964, University of Massachusetts, 1964, and Yale University, 1977;
and Litt.D. from Princeton University, 1972.
Black Issues in Higher Education established the John Hope Franklin Awards for Excellence in Higher Education; the John Hope Franklin Institute was established at Duke University.

Additional Info:

American Historical Association (member of executive council, 1959-62; president, 1978-79), Organization of American Historians (president, 1974-75), Association for Study of Negro Life and History, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP; member of board of directors, Legal Defense and Education Fund), American Studies Association, American Association of University Professors, American Philosophical Society (Jefferson Medal, 1993), Southern Historical Association (life member; president, 1970-71), Phi Beta Kappa (senate, 1966-82, president, 1973-76), Phi Alpha Theta.

Posted on Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 10:35 PM

History Doyens: William Hardy McNeill


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

William Hardy McNeill, 7-31-08

What They’re Famous For

William H. McNeill is Robert A. Milikan Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago. He taught at the university from 1947 until his retirement in 1987. McNeill is also a past president of the American Historical Association (1984-1985). McNeill has authored over thirty books; his most influential works brought world history to the forefront of academic study. His “seminal” book is The Rise of the West A. History of the Human Community (1963). The book was awarded the National Book Award in 1964 and was “later named one of the 100 best nonfiction books of the twentieth century by the Modern Library.” McNeill was one of “the first contemporary North American historians to write world history, seeking a broader interpretation of human affairs than that which prevailed in his youth.” Some of his other books include Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1097-1797 (1974); Plagues and Peoples (1976); The Metamorphosis of Greece since 1945 (1978); The Human Condition: Art Historical and Ecological View (1980); Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force anal Society since 1000 A.D. (1982); Mythistory and Other Essays (1986); Arnold J. Toynbee, a Life (1989), and The Global Condition: Conquerors, Catastrophes, and Community (1992).

More recently, McNeill is the author of The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (2003) with his historian son J. R. McNeill, and The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian’s Memoir (2005). His memoir The Pursuit of Truth has been hailed as “A candid, intellectual memoir from one of the most famous and influential historians of our era. The Pursuit of Truth charts the development of McNeill’s thinking and writing over seven decades. At the core of his worldview is the belief that historical truth does not derive exclusively from criticizing, paraphrasing, and summarizing written documents, nor is history merely, a record of how human intentions and plans succeeded or failed.”

Discussing the role of the historian, McNeill has written, “We have an enormous fixation on, what seems to me to be, the naïve idea that truth resides in what somebody wrote sometime in the past. If it’s not written down, it isn’t true. And that’s absurd. But it’s the way historians are trained: you have to have a source, and if you don’t have something you can cite from an original source, in the original language, then you’re not a really good historian, you’re are not scientific, you’re not true.” While he described his role as a professor stating “My job is to bore you and let the hardness of your seat and the warmth of your robe prepare you for what is to come.”

Personal Anecdote

I recognize three critical learning experiences that shaped that work. First was the day I casually picked three bright green newly published volumes of Toynbee, A Study of History from the shelves of Cornell University library in 1940. I was then a graduate student and had more free time for reading than ever before. As a result, I spent the next week enthralled by Toynbee’s world-wide reach. History as previously taught to me shrank into no more than a small part of the human past, and the big book I had set my heart on when still an undergraduate suddenly needed to expand and become a real world history.

Second came in 1951-52 when I spent two years at Chatham House, London under Toynbee’s supervision writing a history of Allied relations 1941-46. I had wangled that appointment in hope of discovering how he went about writing his Study of History, hoping to imitate him. But through frequent lunch time conversations I soon discovered that he was using notes taken years before to compose the later volumes of his magnum opus, and, straining to finish that task, could not afford to pause to learn anything new. That turned me off; and my own experience of writing a 600-page book, America, Britain and Russia: Their Cooperation and Conflict, 1941-46 showed me how to write without taking notes on the basis of the few published memoirs then available and a collection of newspaper clippings maintained by a staff of skilled young women. Simply by asking for appropriate cartons of clippings and spreading them out before me, I could write about the Yalta Conference and other episodes with no time wasted on note taking.

Third came in 1954 when a Ford Foundation grant allowed me to begin writing my projected world history. This required me to decide what really mattered in the human past; and taking notes on what others had said seemed futile. I decided to fall back on reading first and writing afterwards as I had done at Chatham House. I soon discovered that I could remember where I had seen something important for about six weeks, so made it a rule to stop reading for each new chapter after six weeks and start to write with fifty or so books piled on my desk available to consult whenever a footnote seemed appropriate. Without relying on memory so completely, and devoting almost the whole of my waking hours to the task, I could not have written The Rise of the West as quickly as I did. Another grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York made that possible, freeing me from teaching for two quarters for five years, 1957-62, during which time I completed the book.

William McNeill 1964 National Book Award  JPGI should also confess that another serendipitous experience contributed greatly to my actual achievement. In 1955, Gustav von Grunebaum invited me to join him in a seminar at the University of Frankfurt, Germany. The seminar was conducted in German so I had to learn the language as never before, and during the three months I spent in Frankfurt a learned teaching assistant, Fraulein von Dechend guided me through pre-war German scholarship about pre-history and the history of steppe peoples. This required rewriting the first chapters of my book when I got back home and resumed work. In this instance I did use notes taken in Frankfurt so cannot say I dispensed with note- taking entirely.

Finally, I spent a whole year revising and shortening the original manuscript to make it fit into a single volume. I was convinced that multi-volume books are usually consulted, not read through and wanted mine to be read from beginning to end, so the shape of the whole human past, as I understood it, might emerge. Even though, when cutting it back by about 20%, I often felt I was hurting the smoothness and readability of the book, I believe many readers have in fact labored through its 812 pages. So still, believe my butchery was worthwhile, fifty-five years after its initial publication it is still in print and sells several hundred copies a year. It has also been translated into about a dozen different languages, so by any standard it has been a real success, however outmoded it is now becoming.


By William Hardy McNeill

  • What such a vision of the future anticipates, in other words, is the eventual establishment of a world-wide cosmopolitanism, which, compared with the confusions and haste of our time, would enjoy a. vastly greater stability. A suitable political frame for such a Society might arise through sudden victory and defeat in war, or piecemeal through a more gradual encapsulation of a particular balance of world power within a growingly effective international bureaucracy. But no matter how it comes, the cosmopolitanism of the future will surely bear a Western imprint. At least in its initial stages, any world state will be an empire of the West. This would be the case even if non- Westerners should happen to hold the supreme controls of world-wide political-military authority for they could only do so by utilizing such origin Western traits as industrialism, Science, and the public palliation of power through advocacy of one or other of the democratic political faiths . Hence “The Rise of the West” may serve as a shorthand description of the upshot of the history of the human community to date.’ Historical parallels to such a stabilization of a confused and chaotic social order are not far to seek. The Roman empire stabilized the violences and uncertainty of the Hellenistic world by monopolizing armed might in a single hand. The Han in ancient China likewise put a quietus upon the disorders of the warring states by erecting an imperial bureaucratic structure which endured, with occasional breakdown and modest amendment, almost to our own day. The warring states of the twentieth century seem headed for a similar resolution of their conflicts , unless, of course, the chiliastic vision that haunts our time really comes true and human history ends with a bang of hydrogen nuclei and a whimper from irradiated humanity.The burden of present uncertainties and the drastic scope of alternative possibilities that have become apparent in our time oppress the minds of many sensitive people. Yet the unexampled plasticity of human affairs should also be exhilarating. Foresight, cautious resolution, sustained courage never before had such opportunities to shape our lives and those of subsequent generations. Good and wise men in all parts of the world have seldom counted for more; for they can hope to bring the facts of life more nearly into accord with the generous ideals proclaimed by all-or almost all-the world’s leaders.The fact that evil men and crass vices have precisely the same enhanced powers should not distract our minds. Rather we should recognize it as the inescapable complement of the enlarged scope for good. Great dangers alone produce great victories; and without the possibility of failure, all human achievement would be savorless. Our world assuredly lacks neither dangers nor the possibility of failure. It also offers a theater for heroism such as has seldom or never been seen before in all history.

    Men some centuries from now will surely look back upon our time as a golden age of unparalleled technical, intellectual, institutional, and perhaps even of artistic creativity. Life in Dernosrhenes’ Athens, in Confucius’ China, and in Mohammed’s Arabia was violent, risky, and uncertain; hopes struggled with fears; greatness teetered perilously on the brim of disaster. We belong in this high company and should count ourselves fortunate to live in one of the great ages of the world. — William H. McNeill in “The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community”

  • Still, what seems wise and true to me seems irrelevant obfuscation to others. Only time can settle the issue, presumably by outmoding my ideas and my critics’ as well. Unalterable and eternal Truth remains like the Kingdom of Heaven, an eschatological hope. Mythistory is what we actually have-a useful instrument for piloting human groups in their encounters with one another and with the natural environment.
    To be a truth-seeking mythographer is therefore a high and serious calling, for what a group of people knows and believes about the past channels expectations and affects the decisions on which their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor all depend. Formal written histories are not the only shapers of a people’s notions about the past; but they are sporadically powerful, since even the most abstract and academic historiographical ideas do trickle down to the level of the commonplace, if they fit both what a people want to hear and what a people need to know well enough to be useful.
    As members of society and sharers in the historical process, historians can only expect to be heard if they say what the people around them want to hear-in some degree. ‘[hey can only be useful if they also tell the people some things they are reluctant to hear-in some degree. Piloting between this Scylla and Charybdis is the art of the serious historian, helping the group he or she addresses and celebrates to survive and prosper in a treacherous and changing world by knowing more about itself and others.
    Academic historians have pursued that art with extraordinary energy and considerable success during the past century. May our heirs and successors persevere and do even better! — William H. McNeill in “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians”
  • “Its study, shares the ambiguity of events to the full, and often magnifies uncertainties and ignorances into learned arguments between rival schools. Yet such irritating imprecision is inescapable, for it a history were so simple, logical, and straightforward as to make everything that happened fully intelligible, it could not be true. Logical simplicity can only be attained by arbitrarily leaving things out. . . . [Historians] bring gradual modification to their learned tradition more by intuition and usage than by deliberate invention of an interpretive scheme or ideal model. Such an unphilosophic habit of mind, systematically distrustful of elaborately logical categories, makes it hard for the professional historian to answer such deceptively simple but philosophically difficult questions as ‘What is history?”‘ — William H. McNeill in “Arnold J. Toynbee, a Life”
  • “WHY should anyone bother learning about things that happened far away and long ago? Who cares about Cleopatra, Charlemagne, Montezuma or Confucius? And why worry about George Washington, or how democratic government and industrial society arose? Isn’t there quite enough to learn about the world today? Why add to the burden by looking at the past? Historians ought to try to answer such questions by saying what the study of history is good for, and what it cannot do. But since no one can speak for the historical profession as a whole, this essay is no more than a personal statement, commissioned by the American Historical Association in the hope of convincing all concerned that the study of history is indeed worthwhile and necessary for the education of effective citizens and worthy human beings. Historical knowledge is no more and no less than carefully and critically constructed collective memory. As such it can both make us wiser in our public choices and more richly human in our private lives.[The] study of history may . . . enlarge individual [and] direct experience [so] as to allow some men to become wise; and all men may hope to profit in some degree from a study that enlarges knowledge of the variety of human potentiality and circumstance so directly as history does. . . . Other disciplines and branches of knowledge, of course, have great importance in any practical application of knowledge to society or to individual lives. Historical wisdom more often acts as a brake and moderator than as a motor or guide line for deliberate efforts to change personal and social life. But this constitutes practical wisdom, the fine flower of experience and knowledge, which grows best in a mind that has reflected upon and mastered at least some portion of the vast historical heritage of man-kind.” — William H. McNeill on “Why study history?” American Historical Association, 1985— William H. McNeill, author and historian, spoke about the history of man at the 18th Annual Humanities Festival.About William Hardy McNeill
  • William McNeill, author of The Rise of the West, Plagues and Peoples, and much else, has turned his attention to “the muscular, rhythmic dimension of human sociality” (p. 156) in aspects that have had little scholarly attention, and especially little from sociologists. Here is true interdisciplinary work, involving, besides sociology, history, physiology, and political science…. Serving purposes evil or good, conservative or revolutionary, overcoming alienation or reinforcing the state, “euphoric response to keeping together in time is too deeply implanted in our genes to be exorcized for long. It remains the most powerful way to create or sustain a community that we have at our command.” It needs more of our attention as sociologists, and we must be grateful to William McNeill for identifying it as a field worthy of study. — Nathan Keyfitz, Harvard University Emeritus reviewing “Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History” in Contemporary Sociology, May, 1996
  • World history is coming. This is the message of the World History Association, formed by young historians in 1982 to take up the cause of world history from older scholars who had been fighting a losing battle within the profession for years. Their idol is William H. McNeill. Those who want to know why should read this little collection of his essays, ranging from a piece from 1961 on his discovery of Arnold Toynbee to his presidential address of 1985 to the American Historical Association on the provocative notion of “mythistory.” The main subject, however, is McNeill himself and his intellectual journey toward world history….
    True believers make the best crusaders. Complete faith in these ideas about world history probably was necessary to McNeill in his fight within an unyielding profession. To him world history is a higher history, involving larger human interests and appealing to the better part of ourselves. His version of it, as he frankly concedes, involves specifically American attitudes as well….
    Never mind. McNeill, most importantly, provides much that is convincing in these shining essays to recommend world history to our profession. The rest, the uplifting language about serving peace and saving history in the schools, can be reconciled as expressions of the moral idealism carried along by world history from its ancient origins in religious thought. High ideas just seem to go with the territory. — Gilbert Allardyce, University of New Brunswick, reviewing “Mythistory and Other Essays” in The American Historical Review, Apr., 1987
  • “Mr. McNeill’s erudition is impressive. His account of the effects of major innovations – the invention of chariot warfare around 1,800 B.C., the development of crossbow warfare in China and in Europe, the introduction of gunpowder in the 14th and 15th centuries, changes in artillery design introduced by the French and new methods of iron manufacturing used by the British in the 18th century, the steamships and railroads built in the 19th – is lively and clear. He is particularly impressive when he describes the invention of the “modern routines of army drill” by Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, at the end of the 16th century. That technique not only increased the efficiency of armies in battle but also made it easier for monarchs and for aristocratic officers to command and control armies recruited from the lower classes. Mr. McNeill shows how, in various periods of history, latecomers found it easier to adopt new weapons than the great powers of the day which were burdened by huge obsolescent arsenals. He also emphasizes, as earlier historians have done, the impetus given to industry by the wars of the Napoleonic era and by military technology in 19th-century England. He says that is where the first modern military-industrial complex appeared at the end of the 19th century. – STANLEY HOFFMAN reviewing in the New York Times Book Review “THE PURSUIT OF POWER Technology, Armed Force and Society Since A. D. 1000”, November 28, 1982
  • William H. McNeill began observing and analyzing affairs in Greece more than three decades ago. His continuing interest in the development of this nation has resulted in no less than three books on modern Greece, which taken together provide a sustained and unique commentary on the country. The latest reflects both the fund of knowledge about Greece that McNeill has built up these past thirty years and the broad perspective of historical change that has become the trademark of his writing. The appearance of this work is indeed timely. Events in the country these past ten years have brought changes whose ultimate impact will not be clearly manifested in some instances for several more decades….
    From the author’s survey, which combines history and contemporary observation, there emerges a picture of a people full of contradictions. We see the antipodes of food-deficit and food-producing villages; of the heroic versus the calculating, entrepreneurial spirit; of the secular and the devoutly Orthodox individual; the hill and the plains people; and, finally, of the rural and urban world in Greece. By combining these often conflicting tendencies within their culture the Greeks have produced a vigorous society that is both enduring and unique in McNeill’s estimation.
    This is a work that has something to offer even to those most knowledgeable about modern Greek life. It is a luminous example of how interpreting the past can serve to make the present more intelligible and the future less of an enigma. — Gerasimos Augustinos, University of South Carolina, reviewing “The Metamorphosis of Greece since World War II in the The American Historical Review, Oct., 1979
  • “PROFESSOR McNEILL has gained a well-deserved reputation by writing about the big changes that have shaped the world. In his latest volume devoted to this theme, Plagues and Peoples, he draws attention to the undoubted importance of disease in determining human history. The work is based on a very wide reading of the secondary sources, and brings together a huge range of data likely to be instructive to both professionals and amateurs interested in the history of disease. Professor McNeill develops from this data a coherent interpretation of the relationship between parasitic micro-organisms and human populations which is, in general, accurate. He is especially effective in drawing attention to the relationship between the rise and fall of empires and the devastations of epidemic disease.” — John Norris, University of British Columbia reviewing “PLAGUES AND PEOPLES” in Pacific Affairs, Autumn 1977
  • THE title of this work recalls by contrast The Decline of the West by Spengler. Its subtitle, A History of the Human Community, suggests something even more extensive, if less apocalyptic. It ranges from Palaeolithic Man to the present day, and covers a great deal of the world. And it appears to have the approval of Dr. Arnold Toynbee, though the blurb claims that the author ‘challenges the Spengler-Toynbee view that a number of separate civilisations pursued essentially independent careers’. This is a book, it must be admitted, which awakes admiration that it has been written at all, irrespective of its quality; and it would require a committee to review it. The author, who is Chairman of the Department of History at Chicago University, and a modern historian concerned with the twentieth century, reflects a trend of American education: the broad course of culture-history, in relation to which it is felt that it is better to suffer many errors of detail in specialized fields than to have total ignorance of whole tracts of human experience. — R. J. Hopper, University of Sheffield, reviewing “The Rise of the West” in The Classical Review, Dec., 1964
  • THIS work of major significance deserves the attention particularly of those historians who have had reservations about the rationale or feasibility of world history. The fact that a globally oriented history of mankind should have appeared at this particular time is in itself noteworthy. It represents a return to the his.. toriographic tradition of the Enlightenment, when the idea of universal history fitted in with the prevailing views regarding progress. Prior to that period Western historians had been constrained by the need to fit all historical events into a rigid Biblical context….This century is surely witnessing the decline of the West in certain respects, and its triumph in others; indeed the two processes are interrelated and mutually stimulating. McNeill recognizes this in a footnote on his final page. If this book had appeared in 1914, or even in 1939, the process of decline could have been relegated to a footnote. In 1963 it suggests that the author has become the prisoner of his title and that his subtitle might have been a more functional, if less striking, description of his work. Also the banal and frequently confusing pictograms have no place in a study of such sophistication and stature. In conclusion, the significance of McNeill’s contribution must be underscored. World history hitherto has been left largely to amateurs or to philosophers of history such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee. In their search for patterns and general laws they treated the rise and fall of “civilizations” as isolated and self-sufficient events. McNeill has provided here an alternative to this ahistorical disregard of time and space and in doing so has demonstrated that world history is a viable and intellectually respectable field of study. — — L. S. Stavrianos, Northwestern University reviewing “The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community” in The American Historical Review, Apr., 1964
  • “THIS is an excellent survey of the crucially important co-operation of the United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Russia against the Axis Powers from December, 1941, to February, 1945, and of the tragic, though seemingly inevitable, breakdown of that co-operation from February, 1945, to December, 1946. The author writes with clarity and liveliness on the military, political, and economic bases of Allied co-operation, and shows great skill in presenting the plans and factors that determined the course of events. He relies exclusively upon published source-materials and the main secondary accounts available in English, French, and Italian. This limits the extent of “inside” revelations that he is able to make, but he has had the benefit of counsel from persons familiar with the events narrated, who remain anonymous, in accordance with Chatham House policy. The influence of Professor Arnold Toynbee’s teachings is acknowledged. Historians will find especially useful his lucid presentation of the complex questions affecting the conduct of the war and the postwar peace settlements. The sketches of the personal characteristics of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, and of various minor figures are vivid and suggestive… — Sidney Ratner, Rutgers University reviewing “America, Britain, and Russia: Their Co-Operation and Conflict, 1941-1946” in The American Historical Review, Jul., 1954

Basic Facts

Teaching Positions:

University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, instructor, 1947-49, assistant professor, 1949-55, associate professor, 1955-57, professor of history, 1957-69, Robert D. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor of History, 1969–, chair of department, 1961-69.

Visiting Appointments:

Member of summer faculty, University of Washington, 1953 and 1969;
exchange professor, University of Frankfurt, 1956;
John H. Burns Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Hawaii, 1980;
George Eastman Professor, Oxford University, 1980-81.
Demos Foundation, president, chair of board of directors, 1980.
Consultant to Education Research Council, Cleveland, 1965–.
Member of Twentieth Century Fund survey team in Greece, 1947.

Military service: U.S. Army, 1941-46;
assistant military attache to Greece, 1944-46; became major.

Area of Research:


University of Chicago, B.A., 1938, M.A., 1939; Cornell University, Ph.D., 1947.

Major Publications:

  • Greek Dilemma: War and Aftermath, Lippincott, 1947.
  • History Handbook of Western Civilization, University of Chicago Press, 1953, 4th revised edition, 1958.
  • America, Britain and Russia: Their Cooperation and Conflict, 1941-46, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1953.
  • Past and Future, University of Chicago Press, 1954.
  • Greece: American Aid in Action, Twentieth Century Fund, 1957.
  • The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community, University of Chicago Press, 1963.
  • Europe’s Steppe Frontier 1500-1800, University of Chicago Press, 1964.
  • A World History, Oxford University Press, 1967, 3rd edition, 1979.
  • The Contemporary World, Scott, Foresman, 1967, revised edition, 1975.
  • The Ecumene: Story of Humanity, Harper, 1973.
  • The Shape of European History, Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797, University of Chicago Press, 1974. Plagues and Peoples, Doubleday, 1976.
  • The Metamorphosis of Greece since World War II, University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  • The Human Condition: An Ecological and Historical View, Princeton University Press, 1980.
  • History of Western Civilization: A Handbook, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1986.
  • Mythistory and Other Essays, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1986.
  • The History of the Human Community: Prehistory to the Present, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1987.
  • The Age of Gunpowder Empires, 1450-1800, American Historical Association (Washington, DC), 1989.
  • Arnold J. Toynbee, a Life, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
  • The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community: With a Retrospective Essay, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1990.
  • Population and Politics since 1750, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1990.
  • The Global Condition: Conquerors, Catastrophes, and Community, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1992.
  • Toynbee Revisited, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1993.
  • The History of the Human Community: Prehistory to the Present, Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1997.
  • A World History. Oxford University Press; 4th edition, 1998.
  • The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian’s Memoir, University of Kentucky Press, 2005.
  • Hutchins’ University: A Memoir of the University of Chicago, 1929-1950, University Of Chicago Press, 2007.

Editor & Joint Author:

  • (With wife, E. D. McNeill and Frank Smothers) Report on the Greeks, Twentieth Century Fund, 1948.
  • editor-in-chief of sixteen world history maps for Denoyer-Geppert, 1956, revised edition, 1963.
  • (Editor) Lord Action: Essays in the Liberal Interpretation of History, University of Chicago Press, 1967.
  • (Editor-in-chief) Readings in World History, ten volumes, Oxford University Press, 1968-73.
  • (Editor with Ruth S. Adams) Human Migration: Patterns and Policies, Indiana University Press, 1978.
  • (With son J. R. McNeill) The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History, W. W. Norton & Co, 2003.


  • G. von Grunebaum and W. Hartner, editors, Klassizismus und Kulturverfall, Klosterman (Frankfurt), 1960.
  • E. Gargan, editor, The Intent of Toynbee’s History, Loyola University Press, 1961.
  • Martin Ballard, editor, New Movements in the Study and Teaching of History, Temple Smith, 1970.
  • Kemal Karpat, editor, The Ottoman State and Its Place in World History, E. J. Brill, 1974.
  • Jean Cuisinier, editor, Europe as a Cultural Area, Mouton, 1979.

Also contributor of chapters to numerous other books. Contributor of articles and book reviews to professional journals.


  • Fulbright research scholar, 1950-51;
  • Rockefeller grant, 1951-52, and 1976, for The Metamorphosis of Greece since World War II;
  • Ford faculty fellow, 1954-55; Carnegie five-year grant for completion of The Rise of the West, 1957-62;
  • National Book Award in nonfiction, 1964, for The Rise of the West;
  • Guggenheim grant, 1971-72, for Venice;

Josiah H. Macy Foundation grant, 1973-74, for Plagues and Peoples;
recipient of several honorary degrees;
The Erasmus Prize from the Dutch government for his contribution to European culture, 1996.

2009 National Humanities Medal presented by President Barack Obama, February 25, 2010

Additional Info:

President of the American Historical Association, 1985 ;
Vice-Chairman of the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, 1985.
McNeill is a member of the following associations: American Historical Association, American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, British Academy, Modern Greek Studies Association, and Phi Beta Kappa.

Sources: For introductory bio, Why Study History? – Essay by William H. McNeill and University of Kentucky Press The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian’s Memoir By William Hardy McNeill.
For basic facts, “William Hardy McNeill,” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004.

Posted on Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 11:31 PM

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