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When cataclysmic events rock our present day—when it seems so clear that we are living history—it can feel impossible to know much beyond that visceral fact. That is, to know what history we are living, and where this moment will fit in the wider narrative of our times. Historian David Blight, one of the nation’s foremost scholars of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and particularly the role of memory in history, holds in his mind such a command of the last 300+ years of American and Southern life that he can endeavor, with confidence, to tell us what today means.
Professor Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, where he is also Director of the Gilder Lehman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. He is the author of several seminal books on slavery and the Civil War, including Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001), which received eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize as well as four awards from the Organization of American Historians. He is currently writing a new, full biography of Frederick Douglass that will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2015. In addition to his academic work, Professor Blight works in many capacities in the world of public history, and is a member of a small team of advisors to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. For that institution he wrote the recently published essay, “Will It Rise: September 11 in American Memory.” In 2012, Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and delivered an induction address, “The Pleasure and Pain of History.”