Sewanee and Yale Collaborations

John Willis

Jessie Ball duPont Professor of History, Sewanee
B.A., Baylor University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia

John C. Willis was trained in United States history and specializes in the American South. Professor Willis regularly offers history courses on the region and its place within the nation, as well as an advanced American studies course, "Southern Lives," which explores Southern culture through characters in biography, autobiography, and fiction. In 1998 he introduced an on-line version of "America's Civil War," combining an innovative pedagogy and an extensive electronic archive of nineteenth-century documents and images.  The following year, Professor Willis began offering another World Wide Web-based seminar, "Reconstructing the South," with support from the Mellon Foundation and the Associated Colleges of the South.

Professor Willis's research interests also focus on the Southern past. His most recent book,Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War, won the Mississippi Historical Society’s 2001 McLemore Prize for the year’s best book on the state’s past. Before joining the History faculty at the University of the South, he co-edited and contributed to the highly praised collection, The Edge of the South: Life in Nineteenth-Century Virginia.

In his current research, Professor Willis focuses on the social and environmental history of the southern Cumberland Plateau. There, in an area smaller than one square mile, a variety of individuals and groups have made their homes and livelihoods over the last 8,000 years – from Archaic peoples living among the rock shelters below the bluff face, to frontier farmers in the Jacksonian era, to gentry speculators on the eve of the Civil War, to landowning ex-slaves, and finally, to white farmers during the 1930s and 1940s. With special attention to the interaction of the natural environment and human ambitions, the project examines why a now-remote spot was a center of settlement, agriculture, and various enterprises over millennia.

Professor Willis has published in The Journal of American HistoryThe American Historical ReviewSouthern Cultures, and The Journal of Southern History, and has presented papers drawn from his research to the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Historical Association, the Mellon and duPont foundations, and other philanthropic agencies.