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Lyon G. Tyler Department of History

The Department of History stands against racism, hatred, bigotry, and inequality in all their forms, whether personal or institutional. Eloquent statements from Professor Allen, Professor Petty, and Professor Vinson in the news section below address the historical, political, and cultural implications of the current pandemic and the social and political upheavals sparked by pernicious racial and economic inequalities in this country.

The dedicated faculty and distinctive history of the Department of History give it a unique character, and foster a learning environment that revolves around close interaction among students and professors.  The Department received a generous endowment in 2001 from Harrison Ruffin Tyler in support of its undergraduate and graduate mission, and in honor of his father, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, a former President of William & Mary and chair of the Department.

Harrison Tyler’s gift has helped shape the Department in fundamental ways over the past two decades. It has been used to build an increasingly diverse faculty, and it underwrites research and guest lectures that address a remarkable range of subjects. Past Tyler Lecture series have addressed, among other topics, Jewish history, US history, World War I, the Cold War, Imperialism, and the histories of slavery, racism and discrimination.  All these advances are rooted in our Department’s keen desire to reclaim individuals and groups long denied the opportunity to escape the margins of society. The extraordinary generosity of Harrison Ruffin Tyler—whose gift came with no limitations on the scholarly activity it would make possible—continues to bear good fruit.

Housed in James Blair Hall on Old Campus, the Department is a stone’s throw from Colonial Williamsburg.  History was first taught at William & Mary in 1803. Today the Department houses more than 35 permanent faculty members, 50 master’s and doctoral students currently in the program, and approximately 100 undergraduate history majors graduating every year.  The faculty have areas of expertise ranging across the globe and covering every era from the ancient world to the twenty-first century.  

Our History major encourages undergraduate students to explore the interacting histories of Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Graduate students pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in a broad range of chronological and geographic areas.  We pride ourselves on helping our students to acquire a deep and broad knowledge of the events, personalities, and issues of world history, and to develop the methodological and analytical skills required to open up all realms of the past to critical inquiry.  We push students to question their own assumptions about the past, and we train them to articulate their ideas in lucid oral and written form.

Our faculty members have won William & Mary's, Virginia's, and the historical profession's most prestigious awards for teaching, for scholarship, and for general excellence; US News & World Report's 2017 rankings of graduate programs in History named William & Mary one of the top three universities in the country in which to study U.S. colonial history, alongside the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.