William H. McNeill

William H. McNeill

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William Hardy McNeill is an American world historian
World History
World History, Global History or Transnational history is a field of historical study that emerged as a distinct academic field in the 1980s. It examines history from a global perspective...

 and author and is Professor
Professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

 Emeritus of History at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

, where he has taught since 1947.

Biography


McNeill was born in Vancouver
Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

, British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, the son of theologian and educator John T. McNeill.

He was educated at the University of Chicago, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1938, and Master of Arts (M.A.) in 1939. He obtained his PhD at Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 in 1947.

McNeill's most popular work, completed early in his career, is The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community
The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community
The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community is a popular work by Canadian historian William H. McNeill...

(University of Chicago Press
University of Chicago Press
The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

, 1963). The book explored world history
World History
World History, Global History or Transnational history is a field of historical study that emerged as a distinct academic field in the 1980s. It examines history from a global perspective...

 in terms of the effect of different old world civilizations on one another, and especially the dramatic effect of Western civilization
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 on others in the past 500 years. It had a major impact on historical theory, especially its emphasis on cultural fusions, in contradistinction to Oswald Spengler
Oswald Spengler
Oswald Manuel Arnold Gottfried Spengler was a German historian and philosopher whose interests also included mathematics, science, and art. He is best known for his book The Decline of the West , published in 1918, which puts forth a cyclical theory of the rise and decline of civilizations...

's view of discrete, independent civilizations.

McNeill is a recipient of the 2009 National Humanities Medal
National Humanities Medal
The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.The award, given by the...

, awarded on February 25, 2010 at a White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 ceremony. The NEH citation recognizes him "for his exceptional talent as a teacher and scholar at the University of Chicago and as an author of more than twenty books, including The Rise of the West
The Rise of the West
The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community is a popular work by Canadian historian William H. McNeill...

,
which traces civilizations through 5,000 years of recorded history."

McNeill's Plagues and Peoples
Plagues and Peoples
Plagues and Peoples is a book on epidemiological history by William Hardy McNeill published in New York City in 1976. It was a critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of the extraordinary impact of infectious disease on cultures as a means of enemy attack...

was an important early contribution to the impact of disease on human history and led to the emergence of environmental history as a discipline.

McNeill is the father of historian J. R. McNeill
J. R. McNeill
John R. "J.R." McNeill is an environmental historian, author, and professor at Georgetown University...

.

McNeill is retired and, since 2006, a widower.

External links

  • The Changing Shape of World History, William H. McNeill, Paper originally presented at the History and Theory World History Conference, March 25–26, 1994.
  • Decline of the West?, William H. McNeill, Review of Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. The New York Review of Books. January 9, 1997.