Diversity Spotlight: Dr. David Blight

August 20, 2021 - Liz Schondelmayer

Spotlight Dr. David Blight is a world-renowned historian, a critically-acclaimed author and a beloved professor at Yale University. He is also a proud social science Spartan, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in History in 1971 and then a Master's degree in 1976. 

Dr. Blight's expertise lies in the areas of African American history, slavery and the Civil War. He has written and/or edited over 10 books on these subjects, including a 2018 biography of the legendary Frederick Douglas entitled Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, which is currently being made into a feature film. 

His work as an author and editor have won him many national awards, and additionally, has reviewed books for newspapers such as the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times. Dr. Blight has also shared his knowledge with several documentary films, including 2012's “Death and the Civil War."

"A lot of my research focuses on the era of slavery, the Civil War and reconstruction. I became interested in this topic when I was at Michigan State, and then afterward when I had a job as a high school teacher," Dr. Blight reflected. "I came of age with the history and the story of the Civil Rights Movement, which sparked a passionate interest in the period of the Civil War and Reconstruction and the slavery period that lead up to it."

Aside from his research, Dr. Blight also serves as a teacher to both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition research institute. 

In late 2020, Dr. Blight created the Blight History Scholarship Award to help students from working class families who are interested in studying history cover the cost of their tuition. 

"I grew up a thoroughly working class kid in Flint. My dad worked for General Motors, and neither of my parents went to college," Dr. Blight said. "So, with a little bit of discretionary income now, I thought, 'Why not create a little bit of scholarship money in the history department for today's version of kids like me, who may want to be a history major but may need some help?'"

Dr. Blight hopes that his work studying the past will help inspire others to change the future. In regards to the struggles the last year and a half has brought in terms of the pandemic, racism, and political polarization, he urges readers to keep a long view of history and know that times of difficulty often create opportunities for change.

"Frederick Douglass was very fond of saying that he took hope from times of affliction because that's when people tend to learn the most. It may seem like the economy is a mess right now and that our political institutions are in near permanent paralysis, so there are reasons to be deeply concerned about the future of the United States," explained Dr. Blight. 

"But it's in times of great difficulty and great affliction when history gets our attention, and it often makes us learn the most and think the hardest, and sometimes, do great things."

Learn more about Dr. Blight and his research here , and learn more about his scholarship fund here


Read more:

Diversity Champion

Diversity Champion 
Dr. Nakia Parker

Dr. Nakia Parker, an MSU Assistant Professor of History, is a scholar of Black life in Indian Slave Country. Dr. Parker has shaped our understanding of enslavement and abolitionism in America.

Learn More

Diversity Torch

Diversity Torch
Zach Sneathen

Mr. Zach Sneathen is a fourth-year MSU undergraduate majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science, who took an African American History class with one of the college's newest assistant professors, Nakia Parker, in which he produced a podcast that discusses the importance of using appropriate language when talking about the history of slavery.

Learn More

Diversity Matters

Diversity Matters

We strive to cultivate an inclusive and welcoming college environment that celebrates a diversity of people, ideas, and perspectives.

Learn More