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Dr. Ed Ayers

Tucker-Boatwright Professor Emeritus of the Humanities, University of Richmond
Ed Ayers

This gives you some idea of the cultural power that our institutions have that we sometimes don't recognize...There are strengths that are hidden from us and that have become so familiar and that have even become known as weaknesses that can we can convert into strengths if we do it with a sense of purpose and self-awareness.

Dr. Ed Ayers

Key Interview Takeaways

Higher education is the best chance for determining future trends but it is also the canary in the coal mine. Institutions are built to sense what’s going on in the larger environment and feel changes more strongly because they pay attention to who people are. These institutions will prefigure the rest of what society will be feeling 10 years from now. ​

The great strength of American higher education is biodiversity, and the financial challenges threaten this. Public investment has played a large role in creating institutions that provide valuable opportunities, and private liberal arts colleges educate broad and diverse groups of students. The financial challenges of smaller universities and the retraction of public support for public institutions are leading to an emerging monoculture in higher education.​

The crisis has called our attention to the digital divide and also the need to upgrade digital technologies, which are important tools. This moment has created a real opportunity to rethink these technologies so that they don’t simply serve as a substitute for analog. We should fuse existing technologies and upgrade to something new that would amplify teaching and research.​


Edward “Ed” Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at the University of Richmond, where he is President Emeritus. He was formerly professor and Dean of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. Ayers has been named National Professor of the Year, and has served as both President of the Organization of American Historians and as the founding chair of the board of the American Civil War Museum. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the National Humanities Medal, hailing his “commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible.” Ayers is host of The Future of America’s Past, a television series that visits sites of memory and meets the people who keep those memories alive. He is also the executive director of New American History, an online project based at the University of Richmond, designed to help students and teachers to see the nation’s history in new ways.

Edward Ayers has written and edited twelve books, including, In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America, winner of the Bancroft Prize and the Beveridge Prize; and The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His newest book, which will be released later this year, is Southern Journey: The Migrations of the American South, 1790-2020. Ed received a B.A. in American Studies, summa cum laude, from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He received a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University in 1980.