Burton, Orville Vernon 1947-

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Burton, Orville Vernon 1947-


Born April 15, 1947, in Royston, GA; son of Orville (a U.S. Marine veteran) and Vera (an insurance agent) Burton; married Georganne Butler (retired teacher and writer); children: Vera Joanna, Maya Gouliard, Morgan Johnston, Beatrice, Alice-Anne. Education: Furman University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1969; Princeton University, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1976. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, tennis, reading, grandparenting.


Home—Urbana, IL. Office—Department of History, 305 Gregory Hall, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 810 S. Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801; Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, 4030 National Center for Supercomputing Applications, 1205 W. Clark St., Urbana, IL 61801; fax: 217-244-9757. E-mail—[email protected].


Historian, writer, editor, and educator. Mercer County Community College, Trenton, NJ, instructor, 1971-72; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, assistant master of Woodrow Wilson Residential College, 1972-74; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, instructor, 1974-76, assistant professor, 1976-82, associate professor, 1982-89, professor of history and sociology, 1989—, director of Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science (I-CHASS), 2005—, professor of African American studies, 2006—; National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Urbana, senior research Scientist and associate director for Humanities and Social Sciences, 1986—, head of initiative for social sciences and humanities, 1993-2002, associate director of humanities and social sciences, 2002—; College of Charleston, executive director of program in the Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic world, 2001—. The Citadel, Mark W. Clark Distinguished Chair of History, 2000-01; University of Notre Dame, Pew-Lilly Foundation Graduate Professor, 2001; Earl and Edna Stice lectureship in social sciences, University of Washington, 2005; Middle Tennessee State University, Strickland Visiting Scholar in history, 2005-06. Also worked as a consultant on voting rights, redistricting, desegregation, and discrimination. Military service: U.S. Army, 1969, 1974; became captain.


American History Association, Organization of American Historians, Agricultural History Society (president), Social Science Historical Association (member of executive committee), Association for the Study of African American History and Life, American Studies Association, Southern Historical Association (executive committee member, program chair), Faith and History Association, Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, Southern Regional Council, Phi Beta Kappa, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi (University of Illinois chapter president), American Association of University Professors, South Carolina Historical Society.


Grants from Andrew Carnegie Foundation, 1976, American Council of Learned Societies, 1977, and University of Illinois, 1986-87; fellowships from Rockefeller Foundation for the Humanities, 1977-78, University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study, fall, 1982, National Endowment for the Humanities, summer, 1983, and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1988-89, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1994-95, and Pew Foundation, 1996; Pulitzer Prize nomination, c. 1985, for In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina; named U.S. Professor of the Year and Outstanding Research and Doctoral Universities Professor, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education/Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1999; Pew National Fellowship for Carnegie Scholars, Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2000-01; certificate of excellence, Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2001; Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award, 2002-02; Outstanding Academic Book designation, Choice, 2003, for Computing in the Social Sciences and Humanities; Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Prize, American Historical Association, 2004; Organization of American Historian Distinguished Lecturer, 2004-09; Campus Award for Excellence in public Engagement, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2006; Heartland literary award for nonfiction, Chicago Tribune, 2007, and Pulitzer prize nomination, 2008, both for The Age of Lincoln;


(Editor, with Robert C. McMath, Jr.) Class, Conflict, and Consensus: Antebellum Southern Community Studies, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1982.

(Editor, with Robert C. McMath, Jr.) Toward a New South? Studies in Post-Civil War Southern Communities, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1982.

In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1985.

(Author of foreword) Benjamin Elijah Mays, Born to Rebel: An Autobiography, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988.

(With Judy McArthur) "A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor) Computing in the Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2002, expanded version (with David Herr and Terence Finnegan) published on CD-ROM as Wayfarer: Charting Advances in Social Science and Humanities Computing, 2002.

(Editor, with Georganne B. Burton, and coauthor of introduction) "The Free Flag of Cuba": The Lost Novel of Lucy Pickens, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2002.

(Editor) Slavery in America: Gale Library of Daily Life, two volumes, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.

The Age of Lincoln, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 2007.

Author of computer software packages for database use in history studies. Contributor to books, including The Southern Common People: Studies in Nineteenth Century Social History, edited by Edward Magdol and Jon L. Wakelyn, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1980; The Web of Southern Relations: Women, Family, and Education, edited by Walter J. Fraser, Jr., Frank Saunders, and Jon L. Wakelyn, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1985; The Carolina Connection, edited by Brett Williams, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1988; The Meaning of South Carolina History: Essays in Honor of Dr. George C. Rogers, Jr., edited by David Chesnutt and Clyde Wilson, University of South Carolina Press (Washington, DC), 1989; Supercomputer Applications, edited by Joanne L. Martin and Steve Lundstrom, IEEE Computer Society Press (Washington, DC), 1989; The Quiet Revolution of the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights, 1965-1990, edited by Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994; Shapers of Southern History: Autobiographical Essays by Fifteen Historians, edited by John Boles, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2004; and America on the World Stage, edited by Ted Dickinson and Gary Reichard, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 2008. Contributor of articles and reviews to scholarly journals and reference books, including American National Biography; Dictionary of Afro-American Slavery; Dictionary of Twentieth Century Black Leaders; Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century; Encyclopedia of the Reconstruction Era; Postwar America: An Encyclopedia of Social, Political, Cultural, and Economic History; Civil Rights in the United States; and The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.


Orville Vernon Burton's In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina is a comprehensive study of family and community in Edgefield District, South Carolina. A representative rural southern community save for the unusual violence and vengeance that has marked its politics and social relations, Edgefield "simply carried to extremes," explained C. Vann Woodward in the New York Review of Books, "what was latent or prevalent elsewhere." Focusing on the period from 1850 to the early 1900s, Burton looked at family structure and character in all segments of society: free and slave, black and white, wealthy and poor; historical records reveal that male-headed, two-parent households prevailed throughout. Particularly damaging to the myth of black matriarchy, the book suggests that slavery reinforced—rather than weakened—family structures, that "family was the anchor of slave community and, along with religion, the main refuge and defense against slavery," Woodward remarked. Deeming In My Father's House Are Many Mansions a "highly quantified, computerized and methodologically sophisticated study," the critic also wrote that "for thoroughness and comprehensiveness it rivals, if it does not exceed, any historical investigation of an American community of comparable scope."

In his 2007 book, The Age of Lincoln, Burton focuses on President Abraham Lincoln's life and legacy in terms of what the author perceives as Lincoln's most profound achievement—revolutionizing the concept of personal freedom in the United States. "The enduring legacy of the age was inscribing personal liberty into the nation's millennial aspirations," wrote Rea Andrew Redd in a review of The Age of Lincoln on the Civil War Librarian Web site. Writing in the New York Sun, Justin Reynolds noted: "The first part of Mr. Burton's book is a social, economic, political, and intellectual history that pays close attention to the suffering of a familiar cast of subalterns: women, blacks, immigrants, and American Indians. But gradually the exploration becomes more original."

Reynolds is referring to the author's focus on millennialism in the form of a belief that God's chosen people are the Americans, who will lead the way to Christ on Earth. In his book, Burton makes his case that millennialism and the worldview it proffered was crucial in contributing to the outbreak of the Civil War. On the one side, Southerners were sure that God granted his approval of life on an orderly plantation staffed by slaves, while on the other, abolitionists believed that slavery was actually preventing the arrival of Christ.

Although Burton covers almost the entire nineteenth century, he focuses primarily on President Lincoln and his relationship to the millennial beliefs, which he criticized. As the author presents Lincoln, he is decidedly a non-millenialist who believes no one can know God's will or design. Lincoln is also portrayed as a lawyer and leader who believed in the Constitution and sought to establish freedom and liberty based not on beliefs in God but on the law and statutes establishing equal rights. "It is refreshing to find a Lincoln volume with a new twist," wrote Steve Goddard on the Steve Goddard's History Wire Web site.

Burton's analysis of the Civil War and millennial beliefs includes a look at the economics of the times as powered by cotton. "The book shows clearly how cotton powered the early American economy and ‘tied North and South together’ in a commercial alliance that served to bolster slavery," wrote Goddard.

Several reviewers noted the comprehensiveness of Burton's historical account. John David Smith wrote on the BookPage Web site that the author has "produced a magisterial narrative history of American social and intellectual life from the age of slavery up to the era of Jim Crow. New details, fresh insights and sparkling interpretations punctuate nearly every page." Smith went on to write that the author "presents an overarching thesis and judiciously selects poignant episodes and pithy anecdotes to tell his epic story." Other reviewers also had high praise for The Age of Lincoln. Catherine Clinton, writing in the Chicago Tribune, noted: "He makes a virtue of jargon-free, accessible prose. But his language also allows readers to soak up the texture and complexity of developments with his sprawling, interlacing stories—stories with which all scholars may not always agree, but compelling tales that shed new light on America's complex heritage. He presents us with nuance as well as nuts-and-bolts history, offering vibrant glimpses of the measure of the man at the center of our nation's national pageant." Theresa McDevitt, writing in the Library Journal called the book a "beautifully written, brilliantly reasoned volume."

Burton once told CA: "My academic interests include southern history, social history, family and community history, race relations, and quantitative techniques. These interests led to two edited books on southern communities, several articles, and a history of the southern family and community, In My Father's House Are Many Mansions. Briefly stated, my major intellectual interests include the influence of technology on culture and society especially in regard to computers and humanities and the dilemma of ‘converging cultures.’ Religion is both important to me personally as well as a major intellectual interest. I continue to study family, community, race relations, agrarian societies, and communication networks.

"Beyond academic scholarship and teaching, I am involved in church activities and take an activist role in race relations by being an expert witness for minorities in voting rights and discrimination cases throughout the United States, employing statistical and historical analyses to show how laws have been written and districts have been drawn so that blacks cannot be elected.

"Ironically, for someone who has studied patriarchy, I am the busy father of five daughters. My children, my grandchildren, my wife Georganne, and my mother Vera are the love and focus of my life."



Boles, John, editor, Shapers of Southern History: Autobiographical Essays by Fifteen Historians (includes "Stranger in a Strange Land: Crossing Boundaries, a Memoir," by Vernon Burton), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2004.


ANQ, winter, 2004, E. Irene Matthews, review of "The Free Flag of Cuba": The Lost Novel of Lucy Pickens, p. 51.

Booklist, May 15, 2007, George Cohen, review of The Age of Lincoln, p. 15.

Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2007, Catherine Clinton, "Lincoln and His Complex Times," review of The Age of Lincoln.

Civil War History, September, 2004, "Orville Vernon Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Received the 2003 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award," p. 343; March, 2005, "The Organization of American Historians Recently Named the following Scholars as Distinguished Lecturers for 2004-5," p. 124.

Contemporary Review, October, 1997, review of "A Gentleman and an Officer": A Military and Social History of James B. Griffin's Civil War, p. 222.

History Magazine, October 1, 2007, review of The Age of Lincoln, p. 52.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2007, review of The Age of Lincoln.

Library Journal, May 15, 2007, Theresa McDevitt, review of The Age of Lincoln, p. 100.

New York Review of Books, October 10, 1985, C. Vann Woodward, "District of Devils," review of In My Father's House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina.

New York Sun, July 11, 2007, Justin Reynolds, "With God on Our Side," review of The Age of Lincoln.

PR Newswire, September 11, 2007, "E.L. Doctorow Awarded Chicago Tribune Literary Prize."

Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2007, review of The Age of Lincoln, p. 148.

Weekly Standard, December 3, 2007, Edwin M. Yoder, "America When Young; the Birthing Pains of an Earlier Republic," review of The Age of Lincoln.


Age of Lincoln Web site,http://theageoflincoln.com (January 5, 2008).

American Heritage.com,http://www.americanheritage.com/ (October 2, 2007), Allen Barra, "Abraham Lincoln, Southern Conservative: An Interview with Orville Vernon Burton."

BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (January 5, 2008), John David Smith, "Redefining America in the Years Following the Civil War," review of The Age of Lincoln.

Civil War Librarian,http://civilwarlibrarian.blogspot.com/ (May 11, 2007), Rea Andrew Redd, review of The Age of Lincoln.

History Matters,http://historymatters.gmu.edu/ (January 5, 2008), "Interview with Orville Vernon Burton."

HistoryNet.com,http://www.historynet.com/ (January 5, 2008), Chuck Leddy, review of The Age of Lincoln.

National Center for Supercomputing Applications Web site,http://vburton.ncsa.uiuc.edu/ (February 28, 2008), faculty profile of author.

Steve Goddard's History Wire,http://www.historywire.com/ (July 17, 2007), Steve Goddard, review of The Age of Lincoln.

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