Southern Historian: Comer Vann Woodward

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Vann Woodward quite possibly could have been one of the most influential southern historians of the post WWII Era. He spent a great deal of time writing in his ninety-one years. Haled as an inspiration in the field of Southern history, Woodward lived a modest life. He was a great teacher in the classroom and author of fourteen books and over a dozen journal articles. A life well spent in the pursuit of historical truth and expansion of Southern scholarship. His contemporaries benefited from his work, and they wrote in appreciation of Woodward. His influence has endured after his death and shall continue to inspire others in their pursuits.

The life’s work of an historian endures the test of time. How does Woodward compare to his contemporaries? Men like Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger rivaled Woodward in the post WWII study of history. He did graduate work in history and sociology at the University of North Carolina. Woodward obtained a Ph.D. in history in 1937, using as his dissertation the manuscript he had already finished on Thomas E. Watson: Agrarian Rebel published in 1938. Woodward's dissertation director was Howard K. Beale, a Reconstruction specialist who promoted the Charles Beard economic interpretation of history that deemphasized ideology and ideas and stressed material self-interest as a motivating factor.

Woodward began his writing career in history during WWII. While serving for the U.S. Naval department, he wrote the battle report of The Battle of Leyte Gulf and later published it in 1947. Woodward became a preeminent American historian focusing primarily on the American South and race relations. He influenced other historians of the postwar era, 1940s-1970s, and obtained a powerful...

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...rn Historical Association established the C. Vann Woodward Dissertation Prize, awarded annually to the best dissertation on Southern history. Yale awards him with the honor of the chair, C. Vann Woodward Chair of History. Woodward, also, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982 for Mary Chesnutt’s Civil War, an edited version of Mary Chesnutt’s Civil War diary and won the Bancroft Prize for The Origins of the New South.


Ferrell, Robert. “C. Vann Woodward” in Clio’s Favorites: Leading Historians of the United States, 1945-2000. ed. by Robert Allen Rutland (2000).

Roper, John Herbert. C. Vann Woodward, Southerner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Woodward, C. Vann. Origins of the New South, 1877-1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971.

---. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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