William W. Freehling

Fellow: Awarded 1969

Field of Study: U.S. History

Competition: US & Canada

In 2007, the Oxford University Press published the second and concluding volume of Professor William W. Freehling’s Road to Disunion, subtitled Secessionists Triumphant, 1854-1861 (a main selection of the History Book Club, a Washington Post Notable Book of the year, a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice, and winner of the Hodges Prize). The first volume of Road to Disunion, subtitled Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 and published in 1990, was also a History Book Club main selection and was winner of the Owsley Prize. Together with The South versus the South: How Southern Anti-Confederates Shaped the Course of the Civil War (appearing in 2002 and winner of the Jefferson Davis Prize), The Road to Disunion reinterprets the causes of the Civil War and of Confederate defeat. These books, researched on a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, bring to climax a lifetime’s work on the Old South, begun forty years ago with the publication of Prelude to Civil War; The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina (winner of the Nevins and Bancroft Prizes).

William Freehling grew up in Chicago, received his A.B. degree Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College (where he wrote his honors thesis under Arthur Schlesinger Jr.), and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley (where he wrote his Ph.D. thesis under Kenneth Stampp). He has taught at Berkeley and Harvard, held full professorships at Michigan and Hopkins, and endowed chairs at SUNY, Buffalo and at Kentucky. Now retired from a university career that brought him as many honors for teaching as for books, Mr. Freehling currently writes full time at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities as a permanent Senior Fellow.   His latest publication is Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union (2010). His current projects include a sesquicentennial book of essays on the cause of the American Civil War and a biography of Abraham Lincoln.

He and his wife, Alison (also an American history author), live in Charlottesville with their five Norwich Terriers and close to their two adult children (both journalists).