Yale recruits senior history prof from Amherst

Fending off fierce challenges from Brown and Harvard universities, Yale added another name to the History Department’s already impressive roster — David Blight.

A top scholar in American Civil War history, Blight accepted the University’s offer for a senior professorship in July. Although his appointment with Yale begins on Jan. 1, Blight said he will take a leave of absence spring semester to remain at Amherst College and finish up his current projects.

Blight, who has served as chairman of Amherst’s History Department, said his decision to leave Amherst was difficult but that he felt going to a larger university would be better for him professionally.

“I’ve taught [at Amherst] for 13 years and I’ve enjoyed it,” Blight said. “But this offers me the opportunity to be part of a major history department, the opportunity to teach graduate students, the opportunity to be associated with great libraries and a circle of historians who are broader than the ones here.”

At Yale, Blight said he is planning to offer large lecture courses on the Civil War and on African-American history, in addition to various seminars at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

History chairman Jon Butler said Blight will be an invaluable addition to the department, particularly because the department has been searching for a Civil War scholar for a number of years.

“He’s just a fantastic research scholar who’s made immense contributions to the rewriting of American history,” Butler said.

Blight’s book “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” has won a number of prestigious awards, including the Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize.

In addition to Blight’s prowess as a Civil War scholar, his reputation as an engaging professor made him an attractive candidate, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said. Prior to going to graduate school, Blight was a public high school teacher in his hometown of Flint, Mich.

“He’s a person who’s at the absolute top of the scholarly work of history,” Brodhead said. “But he’s also a person whose life has been about doing the honest work of teaching. He’s a wise, concerned person.”

Butler said he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the hire came through, especially considering many peer institutions also pursued Blight. The search committee offered the position to Blight last spring. Usually, such searches go well into the fall before the candidate accepts.

“[Choosing Yale] was a difficult choice, but I didn’t want it to drag right through the summer,” Blight said.

History professor Glenda Gilmore said she is looking forward to working with Blight in the coming years.

“We’re delighted to welcome a scholar of David Blight’s stature,” Gilmore said. “Blight was heavily sought after by several other Ivy League universities, and we’re just really excited that he decided to come to Yale.”

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