Walter Johnson (historian)

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Walter Johnson, Jr. (b. in Columbia, Missouri) is a leading American historian, specializing in the history of slavery, capitalism, and imperialism.

Walter Johnson discussing the slave trade in New Orleans, 2000.


Walter Johnson, Jr. was born in Missouri, the eldest son of Walter Johnson, Sr., distinguished professor of economics at the University of Missouri,[1] and Mary-Angela Johnson,[2] director of the Children's House Montessori School. He is married to Alison Frank Johnson, and has three children and two stepchildren.

Johnson graduated from the Rock Bridge High School in 1984, and was inducted into its hall of fame in 2006.[3] He graduated from Amherst College in 1988;[4] from the University of Cambridge in 1989; and from Princeton University with a Ph.D. in 1995.

Johnson taught history at New York University, where he also directed the American Studies program, until 2006.[5] He currently teaches U.S. history at Harvard University, where he is Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies.[6] He also serves as the director of the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History.

In 2007 Johnson was an advising scholar for the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Prince Among Slaves, produced by Unity Productions Foundation.


Professor Johnson has received numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the Radcliffe Institute, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, an ACLS-Burkhardt Fellowship, and a Mellon Fellowship in Cultural Studies at Wesleyan University.

His first book Soul by Soul: Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (1999) won multiple awards, including the Francis B. Simkins Award (as co-winner) from the Southern Historical Association, the John Hope Franklin Prize from the American Studies Association, the SHEAR Book Prize from the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize (co-winner) from the Organization of American Historians, the Avery O. Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians, and the Thomas J. Wilson Prize from Harvard University Press. It was also a History Book Club selection. River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2013) won the 2013 SHEAR Book Prize and received an Honorable Mention for the 2014 Avery O. Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. It was also a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2013.



  • John Lauritz Larson, Michael A. Morrison, eds. (2005). Whither the Early Republic: A Forum on the Future of the Field. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-1932-6. 


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