William Thomas III

Professor of History and John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities Profile Image
Professor of History and John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities History wthomas4@unl.edu (402) 472-2414 642 Oldfather Hall


William G. Thomas III is the John and Catherine Angle Chair in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska. He served as Chair of the Department of History from 2010 to 2016. He was selected as a 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow.

Thomas is currently working on a book called Ordeal at White Marsh: A Story of Slavery, Law, and Freedom in the Early Republic, chronicling the history of black, white, and mixed families in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and the burst of freedom suits and manumission in the Chesapeake after the Revolution. Using legal records to reveal family and kinship networks of early Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County, he is also producing a series of experimental essays and animated historical films. These burrow into the historical record to explore how we know what we know about family histories and why we need moral imagination to confront what we find in the past.

Thomas’s research and writing endeavor to demonstrate the full capability of digital scholarship to give voice to people whose lives have been out of reach and to send their histories into the public and scholarly realms through digital media. He served as the co-founder and Director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, where he was an Assistant and Associate Professor of History in the Corcoran Department of History. He was a co-editor the award-winning digital project, Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. With Edward L. Ayers, he co-authored “The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities,” one of the first pieces of digital scholarship published in the American Historical Review.

In 2008 he was awarded a Digital Innovation Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and he has received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has also published essays in Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Historical GeographyThe New York TimesThe Washington PostEDUCAUSE Review, and Inside Higher Education. His previous books include The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale University Press, 2011), a shortlist finalist in 2012 for the Lincoln Prize. Thomas is a graduate of Trinity College (Connecticut) and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia. He currently serves on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and Records Administration.

He is a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. 


  • HIST 111: History of U.S. Since 1877
  • HIST 111H: Honors U.S. History since 1877
  • HIST 244: Nineteenth-Century America
  • HIST 396: Special Projects (The History Harvest)
  • HIST 364: Slavery and Emancipation in U.S. History
  • HIST 365: History of the U. S. South
  • HIST 445: Civil War and Reconstruction
  • HIST 845: Civil War and Reconstruction
  • HIST 941: American History Core Readings
  • HIST 946: Interdisciplinary Readings Seminar in Digital Humanities
  • HIST 970: Digital History Seminar

  • 2017 John T. Hubbell Prize for the best article in Civil War History
  • 2012 Lincoln Prize Finalist for "The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America"
  • Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer
  • 2012 Hazel McClymont Distinguished Teaching Award, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Nebraska
  • The James Harvey Robinson Prize, 2003, American Historical Association, with Edward L. Ayers and Anne S. Rubin, for Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2016-2017
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, 2014-2016, Collaborative Research Award
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, 2009-2011, Digging into Data Challenge Award
  • American Council of Learned Societies, Digital Innovation Fellowship, 2008
  • British Association of American Studies, Visiting Professor in North American Studies, Eccles Centre for American Studies, British Library, in Residence, London, August 2008 to November 2008
  • Editor, A Lincoln Dialogue, by James A. Rawley, University of Nebraska Press, 2014.
  • The Iron Way: Railroads, The Civil War, and the Making of Modern America, Yale University Press, November 2011.
  • Lawyering for the Railroad: Business, Law, and Power in the New South, Louisiana State University Press, 1999.
  • "Places of Exchange: An Analysis of Human and Materiél Flows in Civil War Alexandria, Virginia," co-author with Kaci Nash and Robert Shepard, Civil War History December 2016.
  • "Railroads and Regional Labor Markets in the Mid-Nineteenth-Century United States: A Case Study of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad," co-author with Richard Healey and Katie Lahman, Journal of Historical Geography Vol. 41 (July 2013).
  • "What We Think We Will Build and What We Build in Digital Humanities," Journal of Digital Humanities, Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter 2011.
  • "The Promise of Digital History: Interchange," Journal of American History (September 2008).
  • "Black and on the Border," co-author with Edward L. Ayers and Anne Sarah Rubin, in Gabor Boritt, ed., The African American Soldier in the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • "African American Mobility After Emancipation, 1865-1867," Society of Civil War Historians, Lexington, June 2012.
  • "Valley of the Shadow Project and its Progeny, 20 years later," Panelist, American Historical Association, Chicago, January 2012.
  • "Digital Analysis of Texts: The Mobility of African Americans after Emancipation," Organization of American Historians, Houston, March 2011.
  • "Revisiting the Dead House at Fort Williams: A Story of Civil War History and Memory," Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Lecture Series on Religion and the Civil War, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia, May 2013.
  • "Future Trends in Digital Humanities," Keynote, CIC/Big 10 Symposium on Digital Humanities, April 2012.
  • "Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America," The Michael Colligan Lecture, Miami University, October 2011

Ph.D., University of Virginia, 1995
M.A., University of Virginia, 1991
B.A., Trinity College, 1986 (with honors in history)


Digital Humanities/Digital History, U. S. Civil War, Slavery, Nineteenth-Century