Edward L. Ayers

Edward Lynn "Ed" Ayers[1] (born January 22, 1953; Kingsport, Tennessee) is an American historian, professor, administrator, and ninth President of the University of Richmond, serving from 2007 to 2015. In July 2013, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.[2]

Edward Lynn Ayers
Edward Ayers 9285030.jpg
at 2016 Fall for the Book
President of the University of Richmond
In office
July 1, 2007 – July 1, 2015
Preceded byWilliam E. Cooper
Succeeded byRonald Crutcher
Personal details
Born (1953-01-22) January 22, 1953 (age 67)
Alma materUniversity of Tennessee (B.A., 1973)
Yale University (M.A., 1977; Ph.D., 1980)
ProfessionEducator and historian

Ayers is the author of four and editor of seven books on the history of nineteenth-century America. His book, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Civil War in the Heart of America, won the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American history[3] and the Beveridge Prize for the best book in English on the history of the Americas since 1492.[4] The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction was a finalist for both the National Book Award[5] and the Pulitzer Prize.[6] His 2017, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, was awarded the Lincoln Prize.[7]

Ayers received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American studies from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He then earned both a Master of Arts and a doctorate in American studies from Yale University.[8] During his presidency he developed The Richmond Promise, a five-year strategic plan to guide University priorities. In addition to teaching a first-year seminar,[9] Ayers serves as a senior research fellow with the University's Digital Scholarship Lab, which creates digital tools to reveal the patterns of American history.

Prior to his appointment as President of the University of Richmond, he had been on the faculty of the University of Virginia since 1980, most recently as the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History and the Buckner W. Clay Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.[10] In 2003, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named Ayers National Professor of the Year.[11]

Public historyEdit

Recently, he has chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities program that explored the preliminary emancipation proclamation.[12] He also chaired the first Signature Conference of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the American Civil War Commission,[13] and currently chairs the Steering Committee of The Future of Richmond's Past which sponsors Civil War and Emancipation Day and inclusive conversations to advance a better understanding of Richmond’s shared history.[14] Ayers served as Senior Scholar for Making Sense of the American Civil War program sponsored nationally by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association’s Public Program Office.[15]

Ayers is also one of the co-hosts of the nationally syndicated public radio program "BackStory," alongside Brian Balogh, Joanne B. Freeman, and N. D. B. Connolly. "BackStory" is broadcast on 36 stations around the country each week and has been downloaded more than 2.7 million times through podcasts.[16] The program, which takes a topic from current headlines and examines it in historical context, began in 2008 and is supported in part by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities.[17]

Digital historyEdit

Ayers is an advocate of digital history,[18] having helped found both the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the Virginia Center for Digital History, having served as the latter's director until 2001.[10] Ayers also oversaw the Valley of the Shadow project, which provides users with letters, diaries, and newspaper accounts of life in two communities, one Southern and one Northern, during the Civil War.[19] He also serves on the editorial board of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln.[20]

His work with the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond focuses on showing trends and patterns in American history. Projects include Voting America, Visualizing Emancipation, and Virginia's Secession Convention. The lab is currently developing a digital atlas of American history through a grant received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.[21]

Personal lifeEdit

Ayers is married to Abby Ayers. They have two grown children, Nate and Hannah.[22]

Academic serviceEdit

  • Organization of American Historians, President (2017-2018); Executive Board Officer (2017-2020)[23]
  • American Council for Education, executive committee and co-chair of accreditation committee, 2008–present
  • National Humanities Center, board member, 2007–11
  • National Council for the Humanities, 2000–04, appointed by the president of the United States to advise the National Endowment for the Humanities


  • The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. ISBN 978-0393292633.)
  • America's War: Talking about the Civil War and Emancipation on their 150th Anniversaries, (co-published by the American Library Association and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8389-9308-8)
  • America on the Eve of the Civil War, edited with Carolyn R. Martin, (University of Virginia Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8139-3063-3)
  • The Crucible of the Civil War: Virginia from Secession to Commemoration, edited with Gary Gallagher and Andrew Torget, (University of Virginia Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8139-2552-3.)
  • What Caused the Civil War? Reflections on the South and Southern History, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. ISBN 978-0-393-05947-2.)
  • In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859–1863, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003. ISBN 978-0-393-32601-7.)
  • The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War – The Eve of War, CD-ROM and book co-authored with Anne S. Rubin, (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. ISBN 978-0-393-04604-5.)
  • The Oxford Book of the American South: Testimony, Memory, and Fiction, edited with Bradley Mittendorf, (Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-19-512493-4.)
  • All Over the Map: Rethinking American Regions, co-editor and co-author, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8018-5392-0.)
  • The Promise of the New South: Life after Reconstruction, (Oxford University Press, 1992; paperback edition, 1993; abridged edition, 1995; 15th Anniversary Edition, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-532688-8.)
  • The Edge of the South: Life in Nineteenth-Century Virginia, co-edited with John C. Willis, [University Press of Virginia, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8139-1298-1.)
  • Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South, (Oxford University Press, 1984; paperback edition, 1986. ISBN 978-0-19-503988-7.)



  1. ^ In his podcast, Backstory, Ayers introduces himself as "Ed Ayers."
  2. ^ "Edward L. Ayers". Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Columbia Announces 2004 Bancroft Prize Winners: Ayers, Hahn, Marsden". columbia.edu. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  4. ^ "Albert J. Beveridge Award". American Historical Association. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1992". National Book Foundation. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  6. ^ a b "History". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  7. ^ "2018 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize recipient announced". Gettysburg College. Archived from the original on April 20, 2018. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  8. ^ Rhodes, Karl. "Dr. Edward L. Ayers will take office July 1, 2007, as the University's ninth president". University of Richmond. Archived from the original on December 14, 2012. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  9. ^ Allred, Steve. "Fearlessly Facing the Freshman Seminar". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  10. ^ a b "University of Richmond President's Office: About Dr. Ayers". Archived from the original on February 18, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  11. ^ "U.Va.'s Edward L. Ayers Receives the Nation's Top Teaching Award". University of Virginia. Archived from the original on February 27, 2014. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  12. ^ "NEH Emancipation Resource Portal". National Endowment for the Humanities. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  13. ^ "Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission 2008 Annual Report" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  14. ^ "Partners". Archived from the original on October 1, 2013. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  15. ^ "Information for Participating Libraries". American Library Association. December 19, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  16. ^ "Backstory". Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  17. ^ "About". Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  18. ^ Ayers, Edward L. "The Pasts and Futures of Digital History"
  19. ^ "The Story Behind the Valley Project". University of Virginia. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  20. ^ "Meet Our Editorial Board" (PDF). Lincoln Editor: The Quarterly Newsletter of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln, October–December 2002, p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 4, 2016. Retrieved April 27, 2018.
  21. ^ "Andrew Mellon Foundation awards three-year, $750,000 grant to DSL to create digital atlas of U.S. history". University of Richmond. Retrieved September 3, 2013.
  22. ^ Holzinger, Kim. "For Abby Ayers, public life means keeping some things close to heart," The Collegian, November 8, 2007. Retrieved April 6, 2020.
  23. ^ "Organization of American Historians: 2017-2018 OAH Executive Board". www.oah.org. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  24. ^ a b "Gettysburg College – Previous Winners". www.gettysburg.edu. Archived from the original on September 25, 2018. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  25. ^ "President Obama Awards 2012 National Humanities Medals". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
  26. ^ "National Council on the Humanities: Seven New Members Named". Archived from the original on July 5, 2008. Retrieved November 16, 2007.
  27. ^ 2003 Professor of the Year National Winner: Edward Ayers
  28. ^ Arts and Sciences Academy chooses three from U.Va. Archived November 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
William E. Cooper
President of the University of Richmond
Succeeded by
Ronald Crutcher