Southern historian takes the helm
Edward L. Ayers named Dean of Arts & Sciences.
Photo by Ian Bradshaw.
“I’m honored to be given this opportunity to work on behalf of the College and Graduate School and the University,” Ayers said. “Though I’ve been here for 20 years, there is still much to learn about this extraordinarily complex institution. This place has shaped me and sustained me throughout my career, and I look forward to helping it move forward in whatever way I can.”
Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, succeeded Melvyn P. Leffler as the chief administrator of the liberal arts core of the University. Leffler announced last year that he would step down after four years to accept the Harmsworth Professorship in American History at Oxford University in England.
In announcing the choice of Ayers as dean, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III said, “Ed’s vision and creativity have revolutionized the study of the humanities. I have great confidence that these traits will bring new energy and excitement to the College and will transform the way faculty and students approach teaching, learning and research.”
In accepting the job, Ayers said, “I want us to live up to Jefferson’s original vision of the University as the most modern and forward-looking institution of higher education in the nation. I’m interested in all forms of innovation and ground-breaking work.
“Even as we pursue those ends, however, we must always focus on our central missions: improving the quality of undergraduate life and education, strengthening our graduate programs, building our departments and keeping our superb faculty and staff.”
Ayers praised the work of Leffler, who was a strong advocate for Arts & Sciences.
“My job has been made a lot easier by the hard work Mel Leffler has done,” he said.
Ayers, 48, holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee and master’s and doctoral degrees from Yale. He joined the U.Va. history faculty in 1980, and his enthusiastic and engaging lectures quickly put his courses among the most in demand.
Ayers founded the Virginia Center for Digital History with current director William G. Thomas. Their best-known work is “Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War,” a comprehensive examination of everyday life before and during the war on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century South” won Ayers the J. Willard Hurst Prize for best book in American legal history. “The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction” was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and won the 1993 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award.