William D. Carrigan is a professor of history and the chair of the history department at Rowan University where, since 1999, he has taught over one hundred courses and thousands of students on such topics as the Civil War and Reconstruction, the American West, and the history of New Jersey. A native Texan, he is the author or editor of four books, including The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836–1916 (2004). In collaboration with Clive Webb over the past decade, he has been studying the lynching of Mexicans in the United States. With the support of grants and fellowships from numerous institutions, including the Huntington Library, the National Science Foundation, and the Clements Center, they have published four essays on the subject as well as Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848-1928 (2013). Carrigan's research has been cited widely in the news media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Nation, and the Houston Chronicle.
This accessible lecture designed for non-specialists explores what makes the discipline of history distinct from the other humanities and social sciences and argues for the importance of individuals and chance in shaping events. Using case studies that cover almost the entire breadth of the past but with a focus on American history, this lecture emphasizes the critical role of contingency in the course of the past while acknowledging the influence of factors such as geography, culture, and economics.