James Wright (historian)

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James Edward Wright
16th President of
Dartmouth College
In office
August 1, 1998 – July 1, 2009
Preceded by James Oliver Freedman
Succeeded by Jim Yong Kim
Personal details
Born (1939-08-16) August 16, 1939 (age 76)
Madison, Wisconsin
Residence Hanover, New Hampshire
Alma mater Wisconsin State University
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Website http://www.dartmouth.edu/~jameswright/

James Wright is President Emeritus and Eleazar Wheelock Professor of History Emeritus at Dartmouth College.[1] The 16th President in the Wheelock Succession, he served as Dartmouth president from 1998 until 2009. He joined the Dartmouth History Department in 1969 and served as Dean of Faculty from 1989–97 and as Provost from 1997-98. Wright received a bachelor's degree from Wisconsin State University-Platteville and a masters and doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Early life[edit]

James Wright grew up in Galena, Illinois, a small Midwestern town in the 1950s, the son of a World War II veteran. He enlisted in the Marines in 1957, at age 17. Three years later upon his discharge he went to college. He worked as a laborer in a cheese plant and as a janitor, bartender, and night watchman in order to pay for his education. He also worked at the local zinc mines, including working as a powderman, setting dynamite charges. Encouraged by his undergraduate faculty mentors and enabled by the Danforth Fellowship, he went on to graduate school and became an academic.

Presidency at Dartmouth College[edit]

As president, Wright’s priorities included advancing the academic strength of the institution and expanding the faculty, enhancing the out-of-the-classroom experience, strengthening Dartmouth’s historic commitment to a strong and inclusive sense of community, building and renovating Dartmouth’s facilities and strengthening the College’s financial resources. He worked to more fully integrate the professional schools into the intellectual life of the College. During his presidency undergraduate applications grew by 79 percent and the student body became increasingly diverse, with students of color and international students representing more than 40 percent of the student body.[2] The College also made significant improvements to the financial aid program, including: tripling the budget for undergraduate aid, expanding its need-blind admissions policies to include international students, eliminating loans for all students and offering free tuition to students who come from families with incomes at or below $75,000.[3]

President Wright focused on advancing the academic strength of the College by expanding and diversifying the faculty; resulting in more than 10 percent growth in the faculty of the Arts & Sciences, an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, and the highest percentage of tenured women faculty in the Ivy League and among the highest percentage of faculty of color.[4] The three professional schools all participated in similar patterns of growth and improvement.

Leading the College’s $1.3 billion campaign - the largest fund-raising effort in its history - Wright provided additional resources for faculty support, including: the creation of more than 20 new endowed professorships, increased compensation and research funding, and the construction of Berry and Rauner Special Collections Libraries, Carson Hall, Moore Hall, Kemeny Hall, and the Haldeman Center.[5] Wright enhanced the out-of-classroom experience by investing in new residence halls and off-campus housing for students, renovating or building new athletic and recreation facilities, and subsidizing student tickets to the Hopkins Center and athletic events. Under his stewardship, the College’s endowment and annual fundraising more than doubled, with more than 67 percent of all alumni/ae making gifts to the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience.[6]

Work with Veterans[edit]

In 2005, Wright began a series of visits to U.S. military medical facilities in Washington, D.C., where he met Marines and other U.S. military personnel who had been wounded in the course of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.[7] In over thirty visits since then, he has encouraged the injured servicemen and women to continue their education.

President Wright worked with Senators Jim Webb, John Warner, and Chuck Hagel on language for the GI Bill that was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in June 2008, to provide a means for private institutions to partner with Veterans Affairs in supporting veterans who matriculated at these institutions (the "Yellow Ribbon Program").[8] He also worked with the American Council on Education (ACE) to create a new educational counseling program for wounded U.S. veterans. It has served several hundred injured veterans since 2007, and continues today at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda.[9]

He served as an honorary co-chair for the fall 2008 and the fall 2009 dinner of the Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans of America. President Wright wrote the Spring 2008 cover story on veterans in higher education for The Presidency, a publication of the American Council on Education for college and university presidents. He spoke about some of this work on February 2, 2009, at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.[10]

Since he stepped down from the Dartmouth presidency in 2009, Wright has focused on support of veterans and research, writing, and public speaking on matters relating to education and veterans. His scholarly work as a political historian has extended to include military history and questions about American culture and war.

On Veterans Day 2009, Wright spoke at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. As the Jefferson Memorial Lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley in February 2010, he delivered "War Veterans and American Democracy" and was a participant in a follow-up panel about veterans.[11][12]

Wright has lectured and participated in discussions at Texas A&M University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Norwich University, Rollins College, and the United States Military Academy at West Point, as well as Seoul National University and at Yonsei University in Seoul.[13]

Wright was a speaker at the 2012 Sun Valley Writers’ Conference (he had earlier spoken at the Conference in 2002), and in 2013 he was the speaker for the Veterans Day Program at the Abraham Lincoln Library.[14] He participated in a “National Veterans’ Strategy Roundtable” organized by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and convened at the Library of Congress in September 2013. Wright was one of the speakers at the 2014 Veterans Day Symposium of Veterans on Wall Street, hosted by Goldman Sachs. Other speakers included General Martin Dempsey and Bob Woodruff.[15]

In his 44th year at Dartmouth, Wright taught a senior seminar on America’s wars in the winter term of 2013 and again in 2014. Over the last few years, he has written articles that have appeared in online publications, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, and the Huffington Post. The theme that runs through all of these is the way that American society largely ignores those who fight and sacrifice in the country’s wars.

Wright was a commentator in the Harvard Business School case study and supporting film produced by Linda Bilmes. This deals with the merging of the Walter Reed and Bethesda Hospitals.

James Wright serves on the Board of the Semper Fi Fund/America's Fund.

Awards and Societies[edit]

  • Social Science Research Council Grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Charles Warren Fellowship at Harvard[16]
  • Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Member of the Organization of American Historians
  • Featured by The New York Times for work with injured veterans, May 2007
  • "ABC World News with Charles Gibson" - "Person of the Week," Memorial Day Weekend 2007
  • New Englander of the Year by New England Council
  • Council of College and Military Educators “President’s Award," February 2008
  • Semper Fidelis Award by Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, April 2008
  • Commendation from General James Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, March 2009
  • Invitation to throw out the “first pitch” from Boston Red Sox for contributions to education and to supporting veterans, June 2009
  • Commander-in-Chief’s Gold Medal of Merit Award and Citation by Veterans of Foreign Wars, August 2009
  • Eleanor M. McMahon Award for Lifetime Achievement from the New England Board of Higher Education, March 2010

Key Publications[edit]

An American historian, Wright is the author or editor of six books. His most recent book, Those Who Have Borne the Battle: A History of America’s Wars and Those Who Fought Them, published by Public Affairs Press, was introduced in April 2012 at a Washington event hosted by the Center for a New American Security. In the book, he provides a historical overview of American views of wars and those who have fought them, from the American Revolution to the current wars, and shares some of his own experiences and insights. The book has received wide critical acclaim, and was selected by the New York Times Book Review for an "Editors' Choice" recommendation.

Forever New: The Speeches of James Wright, President of Dartmouth College, 1998-2009, edited by Sheila Culbert, was published by UPNE (University Press of New England, 2012).

He currently is writing a book on the Vietnam War with a focus on the human face of war.

The early books he authored or edited are: The Galena Lead District: Federal Policy and Practices, 1824-1847 (1966); The West of the American People (1970); The Politics of Populism: Dissent in Colorado (1974); The Great Plains Experience: Readings in the History of a Region (1978); and The Progressive Yankees: Republican Reformers in New Hampshire (1987).


  1. ^ "Dartmouth College". dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  2. ^ "Dartmouth for All: Admissions & Financial Aid". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  3. ^ "Dartmouth for All: Admissions & Financial Aid". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  4. ^ "The Academic Enterprise: Faculty". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  5. ^ "Dartmouth News - Dartmouth completes $1.3 billion campaign - 01/07/10". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  6. ^ "Dartmouth News - Dartmouth completes $1.3 billion campaign - 01/07/10". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  7. ^ "Travel Details". alumni.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  8. ^ Alvarez, Lizette (2008-10-30). "A new G.I. bill is expected to swell the number of veterans in the nation’s colleges and universities.". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  9. ^ Lewin, Tamar (2007-05-23). "The Few, the Proud, the Dartmouth-Bound". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  10. ^ "Higher Education Priorities". C-SPAN.org. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  11. ^ "A Forum on the Experience of Veterans in American Society | Berkeley Graduate Lectures". gradlectures.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  12. ^ "War Veterans and American Democracy | Berkeley Graduate Lectures". gradlectures.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  13. ^ "Speeches & Essays". www.dartmouth.edu. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  14. ^ "What does America owe its veterans?". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  15. ^ Bank, Deutsche. "Headlines". www.db.com. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 
  16. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | James Edward Wright". www.gf.org. Retrieved 2015-08-10. 

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