Edward L. Ayers (’74)

Category: Alumni Professional Achievement | Awards

2022 Alumni Professional Achievement Award Winner

An honored historian with deep Southern roots, Edward L. Ayers has lent new understanding to American history. After graduating from UT with a degree in American Studies, Ayers continued his education at Yale University and went on to be recognized for his contribution to humanities by President Barack Obama. Ayers has written and edited 12 books that focus on the Civil War era and the South. His most recent publication is a wide-lens approach to migration in the South from 1790
to the modern day.

Published in 1992, Ayers’ book, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in history and a National Book Award for nonfiction. As history of the South continues to center discussions on equality, Ayers researches to uncover complexities of Southern culture. Currently the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities and President Emeritus at the University of Richmond, he was formerly Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia.

Ayers received the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 2013 and was named National Professor of the Year for research and doctoral universities in 2003. He won the Bancroft Prize for Distinguished Book and Albert J. Beveridge Award in 2004 for In the Presence of Mine Enemies, an historical recount of the Civil War from the Mason Dixon Line. In a sequential book that focused on the contrast of African Americans’ lives before and after emancipation, Ayers won the Lincoln Prize in 2018 for enhancing the public’s understanding of the Civil War era with The Thin Light of Freedom.

Ayers was the founding chair of the Board of the American Civil War Museum and served as president of the Organization of American Historians. He is the Executive Director of New American History, a program that utilizes an array of modern tools ranging from podcasts to interactive maps to share with diverse audiences and schools nationwide.