Office of Communications
22 Chambers St.
Princeton, New Jersey 08542
Telephone 609-258-3601; Fax 609-258-1301

For immediate release: December 5, 2003
Contact: Eric Quinones, (609) 258-5748, quinones@princeton.edu

McPherson selected as Baccalaureate speaker

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton history professor James McPherson has been chosen as the speaker for this year's Baccalaureate, the interfaith worship service that is one of Princeton's oldest traditions. The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, May 30.

McPherson, the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History, is widely known as a pre-eminent Civil War scholar. His best-selling book, "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era," won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1989. Legendary for his intellectual generosity, McPherson has shared his knowledge through courses in the history department that are consistently oversubscribed as well as through field trips to Civil War battle sites that draw large numbers of students and alumni. He plans to retire at the end of this academic year after serving on the Princeton faculty since 1962.

President Shirley M. Tilghman selects the Baccalaureate speaker after consultation with senior class leaders.

"I am both excited and extremely honored that Professor McPherson has chosen to accept President Tilghman's invitation to speak at Baccalaureate 2004," said Eli Goldsmith, president of the senior class. "As my classmates and I leave Princeton and begin to plot out our futures, I believe there can be no greater guide in such a quest than the lessons of history. Thus, I believe there are few individuals more qualified to share their wisdom with the class of 2004 than Professor James McPherson, who has proven to be one of the most celebrated and accomplished historical scholars of our time."

In 2000, the National Endowment for the Humanities chose McPherson to deliver its annual Jefferson Lecture, the organization's highest honor for individual achievement in the humanities. In an interview on the NEH Web site, McPherson explained the reasons the Civil War continues to fascinate Americans.

"Even though the war resolved the issues of Union and slavery, it didn't entirely resolve the issues that underlay those two questions," he said. "These issues are still important in American society today: regionalism, resentment of centralized government, debates about how powerful the national government ought to be and what role it ought to play in people's lives."

McPherson is frequently called upon to use his historical knowledge to reflect on current events. He was one of the speakers at a memorial service held on campus the Sunday following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Addressing the crowd gathered on Cannon Green, he said, "In the spirit of (Abraham) Lincoln's second inaugural address, let us also forswear malice even as we as a nation go forward 'with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us ... bind up the nation's wounds and do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.'"

A graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, McPherson earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. His dissertation, "The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction," was published by Princeton University Press in 1964.

McPherson went on to write and edit many other books about abolition, the war and Lincoln. One of his more recent books, "For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War" (Oxford University Press, 1997), won the 1998 Lincoln Prize awarded by the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute for outstanding scholarly work. A new edition of "Battle Cry of Freedom," containing 700 new illustrations, was published this fall. He also recently has produced two new books about important Civil War battles: "Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam" (Oxford University Press, 2002); and "Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg" (Crown Publishing, 2003).

A crusader for preservation, McPherson in 1991 was named by the U.S. Senate to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. The group determined major battle sites, evaluated conditions and recommended improvements in a report issued in 1993. This past year, he has served as president of the American Historical Association.

Baccalaureate is an end-of-the-year ceremony focused on members of the senior class. Held in the University Chapel, it includes prayers and readings from various religious and philosophical traditions. The earliest recorded Baccalaureate address -- titled "Religion and the Public Spirit" -- was delivered by President Samuel Davies in 1760 to the 11 members of the graduating class. Since 1972, the address has been given by a speaker chosen by the president after discussion with class leaders.

Seating in the chapel is limited to members of the senior class and faculty procession. Seniors receive two tickets for family and guests who may view the ceremony via simulcast, including on a large screen to be set up outside the chapel.


back  |  top