Orville Vernon Burton

Portrait of Orville Vernon Burton

Orville Vernon Burton is the inaugural Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Chair of History and Professor of Pan-African Studies, Sociology and Anthropology, and Computer Science at Clemson University and directed the Clemson Cyber Institute from 2010 to 2016. A recognized authority on race relations, he is often called upon as an expert witness in discrimination and voting rights cases throughout the United States.

Burton is a prolific author and scholar and has authored or edited nearly three hundred articles, more than twenty books, and has served as author or director of numerous digital humanities projects. The Age of Lincoln (2007) won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Literary Award for Nonfiction and was selected for Book of the Month Club, History Book Club, and Military Book Club. One reviewer proclaimed: “If the Civil War era was America's ‘Iliad,’ then historian Orville Vernon Burton is our latest Homer.” His most recent book, Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court (2021), co-authored with Armand Derfner, was deemed “authoritative and highly readable” by reviewer Randall Kennedy of Harvard University Law School in The Nation.   

In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions: Family and Community in Edgefield, South Carolina (1985) was featured at sessions of the Southern Historical Association and the Social Science History Association annual meetings. C. Vann Woodward, in the New York Review of Books, pronounced In My Father’s House “a highly quantified, computerized, and methodologically sophisticated study. For thoroughness and comprehensiveness, it rivals, if it does not exceed, any historical investigation of an American community.” Justice Deferred, The Age of Lincoln, and In My Father’s House were nominated for Pulitzers.

In 2022, Burton received the Clemson University Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievements in Research; in 2018, he was part of the initial University Research, Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award group of scholars. In 2016 Burton received the College of Architecture, Art, and Humanities Dean’s Award for “Excellence in Research” and the 2019 College’s award for “Outstanding Achievement in Service.” From 2008-2010, he was the Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture at Coastal Carolina University. Burton was the founding Director of the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Science at the University of Illinois, where he is emeritus University Distinguished Teacher/Scholar, and Professor of History, African American Studies, and Sociology. At the University of Illinois, he continues as a Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications where he served as Associate Director for Humanities and Social Sciences from 2002-2010. He serves as Executive Director of the College of Charleston’s Low Country and Atlantic World Program; in 2022 the program honored Burton by designating the best conference paper given annually, the Vernon Burton Research Award. Burton served as interim chair, and then vice-chair, of the Board of Directors of the Congressional National Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation, 2009-2017. In 2007 the Illinois State legislature honored him with a special resolution for his contributions as a scholar, teacher, and citizen of Illinois.

Recognized for his teaching, Burton was selected nationwide as the 1999 U.S. Research and Doctoral University Professor of the Year (presented by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education). In 2004 he received the American Historical Association’s Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Prize. At the University of Illinois, he won teaching awards at the department, school, college, and campus levels. He was the recipient of the 2001-2002 Graduate College Outstanding Mentor Award and received the 2006 Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement.

Burton has served as president of the Southern Historical Association and of the Agricultural History Society. He was elected to honorary life membership in BrANCH (British American Nineteenth-Century Historians). Among his honors are fellowships and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Pew Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Humanities Center, the U.S. Department of Education, National Park Service, and the Carnegie Foundation. He was a Pew National Fellow Carnegie Scholar for 2000-2001. He was elected to the Society of American Historians and was one of ten historians selected to contribute to the Presidential Inaugural Portfolio (2013) by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Burton was elected into the S.C. Academy of Authors in 2015, and in 2017 he received the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities from the South Carolina Humanities Council. In 2021 he was awarded the Benjamin E. Mays Legacy Award, and in 2022, he was appointed to the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. 

NEW IN 2021: Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court (Harvard University Press)

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture looks at race and the history of race in the U.S. through the lens of the Supreme Court: from 1619 and colonial slavery - including the Cherokee Trail of Tears and Jim Crow, Chinese exclusion Act, Japanese internment - to the triumph of Brown v. Board of Education, affirmative action, criminal justice, and to the current dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, 2013 and 2021, and continuing today.
Reconstruction is the most important, and least understood, period in U.S. History. It was the most progressive period of history in what was the former Confederacy, and the tragedy of Reconstruction is that this legitimately elected interracial democratic government was overthrown by terrorist paramilitary groups in a coup d'etat.