People

David W. Blight, Director

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He previously taught at North Central College in Illinois, at Harvard University, and at Amherst College. In October of 2018 he Simon and Schuster published his new biography of Frederick Douglass, entitled, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Blight is the author of Frederick Douglass’s Civil War: Keeping Faith in Jubilee (1989); Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), which garnered eight book awards, including the Bancroft Prize, the Merle Curti Award, the Abraham Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize; A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Narratives of Emancipation (2008), which won the Connecticut book award for best book in non-fiction; and American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2011), which won the Aniston-Wolf Prize in non-fiction for best book on race and racism. He has edited some six books, including editions of Frederick Douglass’s Narrative and My Bondage and My Freedom; W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk; and Robert Penn Warren’s Who Speaks for the Negro. Blight is featured in many documentary films on American history on PBS, the BBC, and other networks. He wrote one of the chapters for the book, To Dream A World Anew: A History of the African American People, a companion volume for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He writes frequently for the popular press, including the Atlantic, the New York Times, and many other journals. Blight was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. His lecture course on the Civil War and Reconstruction Era at Yale is on the internet at opencourses@yale.edu. Blight has always been a teacher first. At the beginning of his career he spent seven years as a high school history teacher in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. He was an undergraduate at Michigan State University and did his Ph. D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Blight maintains a website, including information about public lectures and books, at davidwblight.com.


David Brion Davis, Director Emeritus

David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and the founding director of the Gilder Lehrman Center, is the author of The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, and many other books. His 2006 book, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. His other awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, the American Historical Associations’ Albert J. Beveridge Award, the National Book Award, and the 2004 Bruce Catton Prize of the Society of American Historians for lifetime achievement. Davis is also the recipient of the 2004 Kidger Award from the New England History Teachers Association given to honor his devotion to teaching. Currently, Davis is working on The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation to conclude his magisterial series. Davis received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1956. He served as President of the Organization of American Historians for the 1988-1989 term.


Michelle Zacks, Associate Director

Michelle Zacks holds a B.A. in Literature from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, an M.A. in Latin American Studies (concentration in Tropical Conservation and Development) from the University of Florida, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawai’i-Mānoa. Raised in the New Haven area, Michelle has conducted interdisciplinary field work and historical research on coastal communities in Georgia, Florida, Haiti, and Antigua. Most recently, she worked as a folklorist and public historian on Maryland’s Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, where she focused on African American history and culture. Her research interests lie in marine environmental history and the ways in which place-based notions of belonging conflict with the racial and class hierarchies associated with nation-state definitions of citizenship.  Her book manuscript, in progress, is titled “The People’s Fish: Florida Mullet and the Marine Commonwealth.” She is also at work on a research project that examines African American labor in the antebellum oyster industry as a mechanism for constructing cultural landscapes devoted to expanded spaces of freedom.


Thomas Thurston, Education Director

Thomas Thurston holds a B.A. in American Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MPhl in American Studies from Yale University. Prior to coming to the Gilder Lehrman Center he served as the Project Director of the New Deal Network, an educational website developed by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College, Columbia University. For his work developing the New Deal Network he received the first annual award for “Best Multimedia Resource” from the American Association for History and Computing and a “Best of the Humanities on the Web” citation from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Tom has led week-long NEH workshops for K-12 teachers, has acted as a consulting historian for several Teaching American History programs, and has served as a curriculum developer for WNET’s Educational Technologies Department, including the documentary series “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” and “Slavery and the Making of America.”


Melissa McGrath, Administrative Assistant