A Strange Career

C. Vann Woodward, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and a contributing editor to The New Republic, is the leading liberal historian of the South. For three decades his encyclopedic knowledge and detailed historical investigations have produced works that have set the pattern for subsequent historians.

Woodward accepts the title "liberal," if somewhat reluctantly:

In the years of struggle over race relations, starting long before the Civil Rights Movement got underway and continuing through its course, the term liberal was all but unavoidable for someone with my views. Admitting a wide span of differences among those who wore it, the identification was clear enough for the issue at hand and could be worn with honor. I am not about to disavow it in that connection. . . . Worn by a Southerner, however, the identification drew one into some strange company and implied a heritage that I could never reconcile with my own views of past or present.

Thinking Back is a reflection on each of his published books. Since Woodward has so often given novel interpretations to Southern history, he has been the subject of a great deal of professional criticism. That criticism plays a major role in his new book, in which he acknowledges that "the subjects I chose to write about have usually been of a controversial nature," and concedes, "Criticism...

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