David W. Blight

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David W. Blight
David W. Blight at the 2019 National Book Festival.jpg
David W. Blight at the 2019 National Book Festival
David William Blight

(1949-03-21) March 21, 1949 (age 74)
Karin B. H. Beckett
(m. 1987)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisKeeping Faith in Jubilee (1985)
Academic work
Sub-disciplineAmerican history
Notable works
Websitedavidwblight.com Edit this at Wikidata

David William Blight (born 1949) is the Sterling Professor of History, of African American Studies, and of American Studies and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Previously, Blight was a professor of History at Amherst College, where he taught for 13 years. He has won several awards, including the Bancroft Prize and Frederick Douglass Prize for Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, and the Pulitzer Prize and Lincoln Prize for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. In 2021, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Blight was born on March 21, 1949, in Flint, Michigan, where he grew up in a mobile home park. He attended Flint Central High School, from which he graduated in 1967.[2]

He then attended Michigan State University where he played for the Michigan State Spartans baseball team and graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in history. Blight taught at Flint Northern High School for seven years. He received his Master of Arts degree in American history from Michigan State in 1976 and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the discipline from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1985 with a dissertation titled Keeping Faith in Jubilee: Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of the Civil War.[3]


Following stints at North Central College (1982–1987) and Harvard University (1987–1989), Blight taught at Amherst College from 1990 to 2003. In 2001, he published Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. It "presented a new way of understanding the nation's collective response to the war, arguing that, in the interest of reunification, the country ignored the racist underpinnings of the war, leaving a legacy of racial conflict."[4] The book earned Blight both the Bancroft Prize and Frederick Douglass Prize.

After being hired by Yale in 2003 and teaching as a full professor, in 2006 Blight was selected to direct the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. His primary focus is on the American Civil War and how American society grappled with the war in its aftermath. His 2007 book A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation context for newly discovered first-person accounts by two African-American slaves who escaped during the Civil War and emancipated themselves.[5]

He also lectures for One Day University. In Spring 2008, Blight recorded a 27-lecture course, The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845–1877 for Open Yale Courses, which is available online.

Blight wrote Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, released in 2018, as the first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades. One reviewer called it "the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass" and another heralded the book as "the new Frederick Douglass standard-bearer for years to come."[6][7] It earned the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history and the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.[8]

Contributing to the anthology Our American Story (2019), Blight addressed the possibility of a shared American narrative. He cited Frederick Douglass's 1867 speech titled "Composite Nation" calling for a "multi-ethnic, multi-racial 'nation' ... incorporated into this new vision of a 'composite' nationality, separating church and state, giving allegiance to a single new constitution, federalizing the Bill of Rights, and spreading liberty more broadly than any civilization had ever attempted". Blight concluded that although the search for a new unified American story would be difficult, "we must try".[9]

In July 2020, Blight was one of the 153 signers of the "Harper's Letter," published in Harper's Magazine and titled "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate"), which expressed concern that "The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted."[10]



Books as author[edit]

  • David W. Blight (1989). Frederick Douglass' Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee. LSU Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-1724-8.
  • Frederick Douglass (1993). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Introduction David W. Blight. Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press.
  • David W. Blight (2001). Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-00819-9.
  • David W. Blight (2002). Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory, and the American Civil War. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-1-55849-361-2.
  • David W. Blight (2007). A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-101232-9.
  • David W. Blight (2011). American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era. Belknap Press. ISBN 978-0-67-404855-3.
  • David W. Blight (2018). Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-9031-6.

Books as contributor[edit]

  • (Contributor) "The Theft of Lincoln in Scholarship, Politics, and Public Memory," Eric Foner, ed. (2008). Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06756-9.
  • (Contributor and co-editor, with Jim Downs) "Introduction" (co-authored with Gregory P. Downs and Jim Downs), Beyond Freedom: Disrupting the History of Emancipation. University of Georgia Press. 2017. ISBN 9780820351483.
  • (Contributor) "Composite Nation?", Joshua Claybourn, ed. (2019). Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1640121706.


  1. ^ "The American Philosophical Society Welcomes New Members for 2021".
  2. ^ Taylor, Jordee (30 June 2020). "Pulitzer-Winning Biographer David Blight at National Writers Series". Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. MyNorth Media. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  3. ^ David W. Blight. "Keeping Faith in Jubilee: Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of the Civil War"
  4. ^ "David W. Blight" Archived 2008-01-27 at the Wayback Machine, History Dept., Yale University, 2007, accessed 27 April 2012
  5. ^ Grimes, William (5 December 2007). "Freedom Just Ahead: The War Within the Civil War". New York Times. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  6. ^ Glaude, Eddie (12 October 2018). "Complex look at Frederick Douglass with a lesson for Trump era". Boston Globe. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  7. ^ Claybourn, Joshua. "A review of 'Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom' by David W. Blight". Compulsive Reader.
  8. ^ "David Blight Awarded the 2019 Lincoln Prize for "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom"". the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  9. ^ Claybourn, Joshua, ed. (2019). Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books. pp. 3–18. ISBN 978-1640121706.
  10. ^ "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate | Harper's Magazine". Harper’s Magazine. 2020-07-07. Retrieved 2022-08-23.
  11. ^ a b Race and Reunion and prizes, Harvard University Press, accessed 27 April 2012
  12. ^ "David W. Blight Receives 2012 Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize" Archived 2006-06-20 at the Wayback Machine, The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale University, accessed 27 April 2012
  13. ^ The Lincoln Forum
  14. ^ "David Blight receives highest honor from American Academy of Arts and Letters". glc.yale.edu. March 25, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  15. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions
Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by President of the Society of American Historians
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Preceded by Frederick Douglass Prize
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Preceded by Bancroft Prize
With: Alice Kessler-Harris
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Preceded by James A. Rawley Prize of the
Organization of American Historians

With: J. William Harris
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Preceded by Lincoln Prize
Succeeded by
Preceded by Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction
With: David Livingstone Smith
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Preceded by Lincoln Prize
Succeeded by
Preceded by Pulitzer Prize for History
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