Blight, David W. 1949-
Blight, David W. 1949-
Born March 21, 1949, in Flint, MI; son of George Franklin and Martha Ann Blight; married Karin B.H. Beckett (a teacher), December 28, 1987; children: (stepchild) Peter Beckett. Education: Michigan State University, B.A., 1971, M.A., 1976; University of Wisconsin—Madison, Ph.D., 1985.
Historian, writer, and educator. Affiliated with Northern High School, Flint, MI, 1971-78; North Central College, Naperville, IL, assistant professor, 1982-87; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, assistant professor of history and Afro-American studies, 1987-89; Amherst College, Amherst, MA, assistant professor, beginning in 1987, became associate professor of history and Afro-American studies; writer; Yale University, New Haven, CT, professor of American history, 2003—, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, director, 2004—. Also a fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars, New York Public Library, New York, NY, 2006-07; consultant to documentary films, including the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) series, Africans in America, 1998, and The Reconstruction Era, 2004. Board memberships include New York Historical Society, Board of Trustees, 2004—; African American Programs at Monticello, Charlottesville, VA, board member, 2004—; Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, board of advisors.
American Historical Association, American Studies Association, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Historians.
Senior Fulbright professorship at University of Munich, 1992-93; Frederick Douglass award, 2002, for Race and Reunion.
(Editor) Charles Harvey Brewster, When This Cruel War Is Over: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harvey Brewster, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1992.
(Editor) Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993, 2nd edition, Bedford/St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Why the Civil War Came, edited by Gabor S. Boritt, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor, with Brooks D. Simpson) Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1997.
(Editor, with Robert Gooding-Williams) W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Bedford Books (Boston, MA), 1997.
(Editor and author of introduction) Caleb Bingham, The Columbian Orator: Containing a Variety of Original and Selected Pieces Together with Rules, Which Are Calculated to Improve Youth and Others, in the Ornamental and Useful Art of Eloquence, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory & the American Civil War, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, NY), 2002.
A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom; Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.
Contributor to the history textbook A People and a Nation, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA). Author of book reviews for periodicals, including the Washington Post Book World, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe. Contributor to professional journals.
David W. Blight is a historian with particular expertise in the subject of African American history during the Civil War era. Among his publications is Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee, which he described to CA as "an intellectual biography of the nineteenth century's most important black leader, focusing especially on the impact of the Civil War on his life and thought." New York Times contributor Herbert Mitgang wrote that Frederick Douglass's Civil War "delves deeply into the character of the fugitive slave who became a renowned orator and newspaper editor."
In Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, Blight reveals the ways in which the American national consciousness revised the Civil War in the decades that followed it. The abolition of slavery was the main issue that initiated the war between the North and South. Yet once the conflict was over, the white population turned its attention to healing the wounds of a nation divided against itself. Rather than exacerbate the ideological differences between the two sides in the conflict, people chose to see the soldiers from both armies as noble fighters caught up in a tragic struggle. The issue of slavery was pushed aside as Southerners framed the war as a quarrel over states' rights and freedom. Northerners were willing to accept this palatable picture, even according respect to the Southerners who fought bravely for their doomed cause. Northerners quickly brushed aside the challenges of ensuring equal rights for the freed slaves, ignoring the corrupt southern laws that were passed to ensure that African Americans remained subjugated. Although blacks were officially free citizens, some one hundred years passed without much change in their actual social status.
Blight "has distilled a mass of historical material into an impressive, clearly written volume that, however depressing, reads well and rings true," remarked a writer for Kirkus Reviews. Presenting material from a wealth of memoirs, magazines, and contemporary fiction, Blight shows how the nation chose to shape its perception of the devastating conflict. In so doing, he illuminates the "human capacity for evasion and self-delusion," reported Jonathan Yardley in Washington Post Book World. Yardley continued: "Individual memory is at best an imperfect, unreliable instrument. National memory, as David Blight amply demonstrates in this singular book, is even less reliable, and the consequences of its imperfections can be costly indeed."
Blight once told CA: "My scholarly pursuits have combined three major interests in American history: the black experience, American intellectual and cultural history, and the causes, course, and consequences of the Civil War. I am drawn to the question of race and to the black experience in American history because of their importance. I am drawn to Afro-American history because it is a history full of moral predicament. At the same time, like all important histories, it forces us to confront the nature of power relations, as well as social and economic processes. And I am drawn to Afro-American cultural history, not merely because it is a source of metaphors about inclusion or exclusion in America, but because it moves and challenges me and because it is impossible to imagine our cultural landscape over the past century and a half without the influence of black expression.
"I approach history with the sensibilities and methodologies of intellectual history, in part because I think historians, like all scholars, are creatures of temperament. But I have long been persuaded by R.G. Collingwood's conception of the historical imagination as the search for the ideas within events, the thought within social process. Moreover, I believe that events really matter in history; they are the result of human agency, but they also shape human institutions and behavior.
"The Civil War and Reconstruction will always beckon the historical imagination; it will always draw its buffs, poets, writers, and filmmakers; and it will always draw me to keep trying to explain it as an event and as a legacy in American culture."
In his 2002 book, Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory & the American Civil War, Blight presents a series of essays based on his scholarship of the Civil War. Thomas J. Rowland wrote in Biography that, in these essays, the author "demonstrates just how inextricably linked memory is to history, and how memory might be the more influential agent shaping the cultural perception of an event." Also commenting on the theme of history and memory, Gaines M. Foster wrote in the Journal of Southern History that the author "draws a stark line of demarcation between memory and history."
The essays, which date back to 1987, include four that were previously unpublished. They cover a broad range of Civil War topics, from Frederick Douglass's role in ensuring that slavery remained a primary issue in the war to Blue-Gray reunions and an essay on battlefields as places of healing and reconciliation. "Academic historians will recognize in Beyond the Battlefield a well-written and thoughtful call for a more engaged and useful history," wrote Phillip Payne in History: Review of New Books. Payne went on to write that the general reader "will be pleased by Blight's style and purpose as he … attempts to restore slavery, race, and emancipation to the center of our (popular) understanding of the Civil War." Rowland noted: "Blight writes exceedingly well, and his essays are well crafted. His arguments are lucid and concise, and are buttressed with impressive scholarship."
As editor of Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, Blight presents essays by historians about the Underground Railroad, especially focusing on the relationship between official history and popular memory. A Booklist contributor referred to Passages to Freedom as a "thoroughly accessible resource." Completed in cooperation with the National Underground Railroad Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, the book includes photographs and illustrations. Several famous abolitionists are profiled in the essays, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass. The Underground Railroad's origin is examined, as well as the signals such as spirituals used by the secret society of abolitionists. Among the other topics are a discussion of the Underground Railroad as an archetypal image of freedom in the United States and the notion of shame in the United States for having condoned slavery. Noting that Passages to Freedom contains "highly, readable essays by distinguished historians," a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "brackets this coherently arranged collection with two thought-provoking essays."
Blight bases his 2007 book, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom: Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation, on the newly discovered memoirs of the former slaves John M. Washington and Wallace Turnage. Historians acknowledge the rarity of such accounts because slaves were typically not allowed to read or write. "Blight … is a specialist in what are called ‘slave narratives,’" wrote Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World. "It is not surprising, therefore, that the Washington and Turnage memoirs found their way to him or that he welcomed them ‘with a thrill of discovery’ as ‘two extraordinary, unpublished, and probably unmediated narratives about one of the most revolutionary transitions in American history.’" A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a powerful, welcome addition to the Civil War library."
In A Slave No More, Blight presents a host of material along with the memoirs to provide an incisive history of the emancipation of blacks in the United States. The memoirs cover both Washington's and Turnage's time in slavery as well as their eventual escapes to freedom, with Turnage making several attempts before actually escaping. Blight also enhances the memoirs by providing a history of the two men's lives following their freedom. "I recommend A Slave No More to anyone—historian or casual reader—who enjoys learning about the Civil War," wrote Pat Elliott on the BookLoons Web site. Marjorie Kehe, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, noted: "While nothing can match the power of the men's own words, Blight's commentary does much to round out the portrait of the slave and former-slave experience."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
African American Review, spring, 2002, Allen B. Ballard, review of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.
American Historical Review, February, 2002, Jim Cullen, review of Race and Reunion, p. 203.
American Prospect, June 18, 2001, Catherine Clinton, review of Race and Reunion, p. 46.
American Quarterly, March, 2002, Cecilia Elizabeth O'eary, "Clasping Hands over the Bloody Divide: Memory, Amnesia, and Racism," review of Race and Reunion, p. 159.
American Studies, fall, 2002, Bruce R. Kahler, review of Race and Reunion.
Biography, fall, 2002, review of Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory & the American Civil War; spring, 2003, Thomas J. Rowland, review of Beyond the Battlefield.
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Race and Reunion, p. 1096; July, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, p. 1814; January 1, 2005, review of Passages to Freedom, p. 767; September 15, 2007, Vernon Ford, review of A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom: Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation, p. 22.
California Lawyer, February, 2002, Martin Lasden, review of Race and Reunion, p. 35.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 2002, Richard P. Fuke, review of Race and Reunion, p. 583.
Choice, October, 1997, review of Union and Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era, p. 359; October, 2001, K. Winkle, review of Race and Reunion, p. 373; June, 2005, S.N. Roth, review of Passages to Freedom, p. 1885.
Christian Science Monitor, November 6, 2007, Marjorie Kehe, "The Riveting Stories of Two Former Slaves," review of A Slave No More, p. 16.
Civil War History, June, 1998, William W. Giffin, review of Union and Emancipation, p. 147; December, 2001, James M. McPherson, review of Race and Reunion, p. 347; September, 2002, "Awards," p. 282.
Civil War Times, August, 2001, "Rediscovering Reality," p. 10.
Ethnic and Racial Studies, May, 2002, review of Race and Reunion, p. 527.
History: Review of New Books, fall, 2001, Brooks D. Simpson, review of Race and Reunion; winter, 2003, Phillip Payne, review of Beyond the Battlefield, p. 58.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 2004, Fionnghuala Sweeney, review of Race and Reunion, p. 609.
Journal of American History, March, 1998, Christopher Philips, review of Union and Emancipation, p. 1515; March, 2002, George C. Rable, review of Race and Reunion, p. 1494.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 2003, Matthew Pinsker, review of Race and Reunion.
Journal of Military History, April, 2003, Edward J. Hagerty, review of Race and Reunion, p. 579.
Journal of Southern History, November, 1998, Stephen E. Maizlish, review of Union and Emancipation, p. 758; August, 2002, Carl N. Degler, review of Race and Reunion, p. 717; May, 2004, Gaines M. Foster, review of Beyond the Battlefield, p. 451.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2000, review of Race and Reunion, p. 1591; September 15, 2007, review of A Slave No More.
Library Journal, December, 2000, John Carver, review of Race and Reunion, p. 158; October 15, 2007, Thomas J. Davis, review of A Slave No More, p. 75.
M2 Presswire, September 24, 2002, "Acclaimed Historian David Blight Joins Yale Faculty"; June 9, 2004, "Historian David Blight to Direct the Gilder-Lehrman Center at Yale."
New England Quarterly, September, 2002, Kathleen Clark, review of Race and Reunion, p. 496.
New York Review of Books, July 18, 2002, David Brion Davis, "The Terrible Cost of Reconciliation," review of Race and Reunion, p. 50.
New York Times, August 24, 1989, Herbert Mitgang, review of Frederick Douglass's Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee, p. C19.
New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2001, review of Race and Reunion, p. 30; December 2, 2001, review of Race and Reunion, p. 72; April 14, 2002, Scott Veale, review of Race and Reunion, p. 24.
Public Historian, summer, 2002, Tom Hanchett, review of Race and Reunion.
Publishers Weekly, February 12, 2001, review of Race and Reunion, p. 198; July 5, 2004, review of Passages to Freedom, p. 52; August 20, 2007, review of A Slave No More, p. 56.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 1997, review of Union and Emancipation, p. 39; November, 2002, review of Beyond the Battlefield, p. 53.
Reviews in American History, September, 1997, review of Union and Emancipation, p. 427; December, 2001, Michael Gordon, "Recovered Memory of the Civil War," review of Race and Reunion, p. 550.
Southern Cultures, spring, 2002, Bruce E. Baker, review of Race and Reunion.
Times Literary Supplement, June 15, 2001, Hugh Brogan, review of Race and Reunion, p. 10.
Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, summer, 2001, Ted Ownby, review of Race and Reunion.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 2002, Leslie Gordon, "Remembering Our Bloodiest War," review of Race and Reunion.
Washington Post Book World, February 4, 2001, Jonathan Yardley, review of Race and Reunion, p. 2; November 18, 2007, Jonathan Yardley, review of A Slave No More, p. BW15.
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (January 4, 2008), Pat Elliott, review of A Slave No More.
David W. Blight Home Page,http://www.davidwblight.com (January 4, 2008).
Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience,http://18.104.22.168/iecme/ (January 4, 2008), "Keynote Speaker for Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series, 2007," profile of author.
Yale University Web site,http://www.yale.edu/ (January 4, 2008), faculty profile of author.