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Comer Vann Woodward (November 13, 1908 – December 17, 1999) was a preeminent American historian focusing primarily on the American South and race relations. He was considered, along with Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to be one of the most influential historians of the postwar era, 1940s-1970s, both by scholars and by the general public. He was long a supporter of the approach of Charles Beard, stressing the influence of unseen economic motivations in politics. Stylistically, he was a master of irony and counterpoint.

Early life and education[]

C. Vann Woodward was born in Vanndale, a town named after his mother's family, in Cross County in eastern Arkansas. Woodward attended high school in Morrilton, Arkansas. He attended Henderson-Brown College a small Methodist school in Arkadelphia, for two years. In 1930 he transferred to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where his uncle was dean of students and professor of sociology. After graduating, he taught English composition for two years at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. There he met Will W. Alexander, head of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and J. Saunders Redding a historian at Atlanta University.

Woodward took graduate courses in sociology at Columbia University in 1931 where he met, and was influenced by, Langston Hughes, who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance movement. In 1932 Woodward worked for the defense of Angelo Herndon, a young Communist Party member who had been accused of subversive activities. He traveled to the Soviet Union and Germany in 1932.

He did graduate work in history and sociology at the University of North Carolina. He was granted a Ph.D. in history in 1937, using as his dissertation the manuscript he had already finished on Thomas E. Watson. Woodward's dissertation director was Howard K. Beale, a Reconstruction specialist who promoted the Beardian economic interpretation of history that deemphasized ideology and ideas and stressed material self-interest as a motivating factor.

In World War II, he served on the historical staff of the Navy, writing battle reports, including The Battle of Leyte Gulf (1946).

Academic career[]

Woodward taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1946 to 1961 and at Yale from 1961 to 1977, where he taught both graduate and undergraduate Yale students. Among the younger historians who studied under Woodward were Patricia Nelson Limerick, Professor of History at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Michael Wayne (historian), Professor of History at the University of Toronto; John Herbert Roper, Richardson Chair of American History at Emory & Henry College and noted Civil War scholar; and David L. Carlton, currently assistant professor of History at Vanderbilt University.

In 1974, the United States House Committee on the Judiciary asked Woodward for an historical study of misconduct in previous administrations and how the Presidents responded. Woodward led a group of fourteen historians and they produced a thorough 400 page report in less than four months, Responses of the Presidents to Charges of Misconduct.

In 1978 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Woodward for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. His lecture, entitled "The European Vision of America,"[1] was later incorporated into his book The Old World's New World.[2]

Woodward won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for Mary Chesnut's Civil War, an edited version of Mary Chesnut's Civil War diary. He won the Bancroft Prize for The Origins of the New South. Martin Luther King, Jr. called The Strange Career of Jim Crow "the historical bible of the civil rights movement."

C. Vann Woodward died in Hamden, Connecticut.

The Southern Historical Association has established the C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, awarded annually to the best dissertation on Southern history. There is a Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Chair of History at Yale; it is now held by southern historian Glenda Gilmore.


Major journal articles by Woodward[]

  • "Tom Watson and the Negro in Agrarian Politics," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Feb., 1938), pp. 14-33 in JSTOR
  • "The Irony of Southern History," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Feb., 1953), pp. 3-19 in JSTOR
  • "The Political Legacy of Reconstruction," Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 26, No. 3, The Negro Voter in the South (Summer, 1957), pp. 231-240 in JSTOR
  • "The Age of Reinterpretation," American Historical Review, Vol. 66, No. 1 (Oct., 1960), pp. 1-19 in JSTOR
  • "Seeds of Failure in Radical Race Policy," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 110, No. 1 (Feb. 18, 1966), pp. 1-9 in JSTOR
  • "History and the Third Culture," Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 3, No. 2, Reappraisals (Apr., 1968), pp. 23-35 in JSTOR
  • "The Southern Ethic in a Puritan World," William and Mary Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 3 (Jul., 1968), pp. 344-370 in JSTOR
  • "Clio With Soul," Journal of American History, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Jun., 1969), pp. 5-20


  • "The Future of the Past," American Historical Review, Vol. 75, No. 3 (Feb., 1970), pp. 711-726 in JSTOR
  • "The Erosion of Academic Privileges and Immunities," Daedalus, Vol. 103, No. 4, (Fall, 1974), pp. 33-37 in JSTOR
  • "The Aging of America," American Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 3 (Jun., 1977), pp. 583-594 in JSTOR
  • "The Fall of the American Adam," Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Nov., 1981), pp. 26-34 in JSTOR
  • "Strange Career Critics: Long May they Persevere," Journal of American History, Vol. 75, No. 3 (Dec., 1988), pp. 857-868 in JSTOR
  • "Look Away, Look Away," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Aug., 1993), pp. 487-504 in JSTOR

Books by Woodward[]

About Woodward[]

  • Ferrell, Robert. "C. Vann Woodward" in Clio's Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000. ed by Robert Allen Rutland; (2000) pp 170-81
  • J. Morgan Kousser and James McPherson, eds. Religion, Race and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward (1982)
  • David M. Potter, "C. Vann Woodward," in Pastmasters: Some Essays on American Historians, ed. Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks (1969).
  • Roper, John Herbert. C. Vann Woodward, Southerner (1987), biography
  • Roper, John Herbert, ed. C. Vann Woodward: A Southern Historian and His Critics (1997) essays about Woodward


  1. Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  2. C. Vann Woodward, The Old World's New World (Oxford University Press, 1991), ISBN 0195064518.

External links[]

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