On October 9, 2022, the UNC History Department celebrated the 100th birthday of Professor Emeritus William Leuchtenburg at the historic Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill. Watch the event’s tribute video, created by Gregory Georges, here.
Born on September 28, 1922, in New York City, Professor Leuchtenburg earned his BA in 1943 from Cornell and his PhD in History in 1951 from Columbia University, where he taught with distinction for many years before joining the History Department at UNC in 1982.
Seventy years ago, Professor Leuchtenburg published his first of many articles, and the following year Harvard University Press published his first book, Flood Control Politics: The Connecticut River Valley Problem, 1927–1950. In the following years, Bill Leuchtenburg became a leading scholar of twentieth-century U.S. history and the American presidency and the preeminent expert on FDR, writing profoundly influential books including The Perils of Prosperity, 1914–32 (1958 with a popular second edition in 1993). Professor Leuchtenburg’s Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (1963) won both the prestigious Bancroft Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize. Almost sixty years later, it remains the best single volume treatment of the subject. His later publications have constantly enhanced his historical influence and stature. These works include In the Shadow of FDR: From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan (updated and subtitled From Harry Truman to Barack Obama, 2009); The Supreme Court Reborn: The Constitutional Revolution in the Age of Roosevelt (1996); The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy (1997); The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson (2005); and The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton (2015).
He has been a visiting professor at Harvard, Cornell, William and Mary, and other American universities and held the Harmsworth chair at Oxford University. He served as president of the Society of American Historians (1978–1981), the Organization of American Historians (1985–1986), and the American Historical Association (1991).
He has always been a model of public engagement, from his pre-graduate-school work for Americans for Democratic Action, to presidential election analysis for NBC, to advising on K-12 history standards. He has also collaborated with Ken Burns on his many documentary films, including the miniseries on baseball, one of Bill’s enduring passions, and The Roosevelts. He has urged historians to speak publicly from their expertise, “if not as prophets then as guides to comprehending the sources of the predicaments of our time.”
After teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill for 20 years, Bill retired as the William Rand Kenan Jr. distinguished professor in 2002. Yet he continued to serve on the UNC Press Board of Governors and perform other service for the university. For his exemplary contributions to our understanding of our nation’s history, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from UNC-CH in 2021. A notably lucid and engaging writer, he received the North Carolina Prize for Literature in 2007. He is currently completing a book on the earlier history of the American presidency, written, like all his works, on his beloved manual typewriter.
Wishing you a most Happy birthday, Bill, from your colleagues and friends in the UNC History Department!