With the shelves in his office full of Civil War books from his childhood, it is clear that history professor David Blight’s fascination with America’s greatest conflict began at an early age.
“As a kid, I was interested in the Civil War, and that led to wanting to teach,” Blight said.
Blight, who is new to Yale this year, left Amherst College after a distinguished 13-year career as a professor of history and black studies. Specializing in mid-19th century United States history, Blight is now teaching courses on the Civil War, the Reconstruction era and African-American history.
Unlike many people, Blight knew what he would do with his life before he even entered college.
“I’m one of those people who came out of high school knowing what I wanted to do,” Blight said. “I wanted to teach.”
After graduating from college, Blight spent seven years teaching high school history in his hometown of Flint, Mich., before deciding to pursue a career as a university scholar.
“I was a teacher first, and I came to this profession through teaching,” Blight said.
History department chairman Jon Butler said Blight had much to offer, in terms of both his teaching and his research.
“He’s the best mid-19th century historian in the U.S. and uniquely qualified to teach the Civil War and Reconstruction periods,” Butler said. “He is a multi-prize-winning historian with several major books.”
In 2001, Blight received widespread praise for his book “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” which received a number of awards, including the Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize.
He is currently at work on several books about African-American history, including one on the history of the Underground Railroad as reality and myth. The book’s publication will accompany the opening of an Underground Railroad museum in Cincinnati.
Blight said he moved to Yale in order to be a part of a “major history department” in a research center with “a lot going on.” He said the time had come to make a decision about whether or not he would move.
“I had to make the move now, or I’d never make it,” Blight said, adding that he intends to finish his career at Yale.
Amherst junior Rosalyn Foster, who took Blight’s class on African-American history during her freshman year, said she enjoyed the lectures and found him very approachable outside of class.
“[African-American history] was a really interesting class,” Foster said. “[Blight] really takes an interest in his students. He’s really willing to talk to you and have a discussion, and he’s very down to earth.”
One Yale undergraduate, currently enrolled in Blight’s class “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877,” praised Blight’s lectures but said Blight was still adjusting to Yale’s more condensed schedule.
“Although I find the class very interesting, it seems as though we’re always rushed,” the student said. “At Amherst, they have longer classes, and he is still transitioning.”
According to the Amherst Student, Amherst history professor Sean Redding said Blight would be missed.
“He’s been a terrific colleague and a terrific professor,” Redding said. “It’s a significant blow to lose him.”