William H. McNeill (historian)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from William Hardy McNeill)
Jump to: navigation, search
William H. McNeill with first copies of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History on his 87th birthday.

William Hardy McNeill (born October 31, 1917) is a Canadian-American world historian and author, particularly noted for his writings on Western civilization. He is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago where he has taught since 1947.[1] He is the father of historian J. R. McNeill with whom he co-authored The Human Web: A Bird's-eye View of World History.[2]

Life and career[edit]

William McNeill was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the son of theologian and educator John T. McNeill. He was educated at the University of Chicago, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1938, and Master of Arts (M.A.) in 1939. In 1941 he was drafted into the U.S. army and served in World War II in the European theater.[3] After the war, he obtained his PhD at Cornell University in 1947.[1] In that same year he began teaching at the University of Chicago, which became his home throughout his professional career.

McNeill's most popular work, completed early in his career, is The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (University of Chicago Press, 1963). The book explored world history in terms of the effect of different old world civilizations on one another, and especially the dramatic effect of Western civilization on others in the past 500 years. It had a major impact on historical theory, especially its emphasis on cultural fusions, in contrast to Oswald Spengler's view of discrete, independent civilizations.

Rise of the West won the 1964 U.S. National Book Award in History and Biography.[4] In 1976 Mcneill wrote Plagues and Peoples, an important early contribution to the impact of disease on human history and contributed to the emergence of environmental history as a discipline.

McNeill was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama on February 25, 2010. The citation recognizes "his exceptional talent as a teacher and scholar at the University of Chicago and as an author of more than twenty books, including The Rise of the West, which traces civilizations through 5,000 years of recorded history."[5]

McNeill was married to Elizabeth Darbishire[6] until her death in 2006, and is now retired.



  1. ^ a b c McNeill, William H. (March 1979), "Historical Patterns of Migration", Current Anthropology 20 (1): 95–102, doi:10.1086/202206, JSTOR 2741864, PMID 11630845 . (Biographical details from bottom of page 95.)
  2. ^ New York: Norton, 2003
  3. ^ "A germ of an idea – University of Chicago Magazine". Magazine.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  4. ^ "National Book Awards – 1964". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  5. ^ "President Obama Awards 2009 National Humanities Medals". NEH News Archive. National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2012-03-18.
  6. ^ McNeill, William (2005). The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian's Memoir. Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press. p. 52. 

External links[edit]