C. Vann Woodward

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Comer Vann Woodward (November 13, 1908 - December 17, 1999) was a pre-eminent American historian focusing primarily on the American South and race relations. Along with Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., he was one of the most influential historians of the postwar era, 1940s-1970s, both among scholars and the general public. He was long an advocate of Charles Beard's interpretation, stressing the influence of unseen economic motivations in politics. He was a master of irony and counterpoint.

C. Vann Woodward was born in Vanndale, Arkansas, a town named after his mother's family; he attended high school in Morrilton, Arkansas, then attended Henderson-Brown College a small Methodist school in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, for two years. In 1930 he transferred to Emory University, 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 challenged the code of segregation by coaliazing with black scholars, including Will W. Alexander, head of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and J. Saunders Redding an historian at Atlanta University.

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

He did graduate work in history and sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 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 syntheses of battle reports, including The Battle of Leyte Gulf (1947)

Woodward taught at Johns Hopkins University from 1946 to 1961 and at Yale from 1961 to 1977. He received the Bancroft Prize in 1951 for Origins of the New South, 1877-1913, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for Mary Chesnut's Civil War, a minor book but the Pulitzer committee had overlooked his major books. He was president of the Southern Historical Association, 1952; president of the Organization of American Historians and of the American Historical Association, 1968-1969; and president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1987-1988. He received numerous honorary degrees. Martin Luther King, Jr. called The Strange Career of Jim Crow "the historical bible of the civil rights movement."

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 books by C. Vann Woodward