David W. Blight
David William Blight
March 21, 1949
|Residence||Flint, Michigan, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison|
David William Blight (born March 21, 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.
Blight grew up in Flint, Michigan. After earning his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University in 1971, Blight taught in a public high school for seven years. He received his M.A. in American history from Michigan State in 1976 and a Ph.D. 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.
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." 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 its aftermath.
Blight is chiefly concerned with studying the ways American society grappled with the war in its aftermath. His work, A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (2007), provides context for newly discovered first-person accounts by two African-American slaves who escaped during the Civil War and emancipated themselves.
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." It earned the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history and the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
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."