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“Grant, not Lincoln, is the most popular man in the 19th century,” the historian Donald L. Miller says during the “American Experience” portrait of Grant, beginning Sunday night on PBS and concluding on May 12. “No question about it. Even in death, Lincoln wasn’t as popular as Ulysses Grant.” Unless you’re a historian (or history buff) yourself, you probably know little about Grant beyond his Civil War exploits. You’re sure to learn a great deal about a sometimes-great man during this engrossing two-part documentary.

— The New York Times, May 3, 2002

“Show of the Week.” This four-hour profile of the Civil War hero and two-term President is more than a valuable work of history. It’s a darn good story.

— People, May 6, 2002

Donald L. Miller, John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette, played a multifaceted, prominent role in the production of “Ulysses S. Grant,” a four-hour American Experience program premiering on PBS television stations May 5 and 12.

Miller worked with scriptwriter Paul Taylor of PBS station WGBH-Boston, served as a consultant on the production, and appears on the show to provide his expertise on Grant and his role as commanding general of Union forces in the Battle of Vicksburg, one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War.

“That’s the battle that made Grant’s reputation and resulted in his promotion as supreme commander of the Union armies,” says Miller, who is writing a book on the Battle of Vicksburg. “It was the real turning point in his life – really a long campaign rather than a battle.”

Visit the program’s dynamic web site at

Grant faced major challenges in the campaign, notes Miller, including charges of alcoholism, which had been levied earlier in his career; low morale, disease, and desertion among his troops; travel through the mud of the Mississippi River; and earlier failed attempts to take the city.

“Grant’s entire command was at risk here,” says Miller. “People were calling for his head. He turned the whole thing around in what arguably was one of the most brilliant campaigns in military history, which is still studied at West Point.”

The Vicksburg campaign plays a prominent role in the American Experience program.

“In the process of researching the battle and Grant, I wanted to understand him as a human being — what motivated him,” says Miller. “In a sense, inside my book in process is a mini-biography of Grant, so I was able to help them with his earlier career as well – his upbringing and his first military experience. Basically, it was a life of failure up to the Civil War. Of course, he then catapulted to fame during the war and became president of the United States.”

Nicolette Stavrovsky of Bethlehem, Pa., a history major who graduated in Lafayette’s Class of 2000, assisted Miller with research for his book on Vicksburg and eventually took a position with Taylor at WGBH-Boston. Stavrovsky worked with Miller though the EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend.

Miller also is involving Lafayette students in a book he is writing about the 8th Air Force in World War II. Throughout the school year, he has been working with EXCEL Scholars Carter Figueroa, a senior chemistry major from Charleston, S.C., and Lauren Sheldon, a double major in English and French from Somerville, N.J. They are providing Miller with information from periodicals during the war such as Yank and Stars and Stripes.

“This is an exciting opportunity to see the beginning processes of what goes into a book,” says Sheldon. “Since I’m interested in writing in the future, this is a good experience for meWe look at source after source after source, which gives me a perspective of how much work goes into the preliminary stages of a book.”

After spending significant time being directed closely by Miller in their information gathering, the students have progressed to the point of making decisions about which materials would be useful to him.

Stars and Stripes started as a weekly, but in the later half of the war, it became a daily account of the war,” says Sheldon, who also is a Writing Associate for a Values and Science/Technology course called “Creed and Computers: The Interplay of Science and Religion” and a Bible study leader and worship leader in Lafayette Christian Fellowship. “After being prepared by Professor Miller for what he’s looking for, we’re making our own choices about what we think is interesting.”

Miller also involved students in his critically acclaimed The Story of World War II, a revised, expanded, and updated version of Henry Steele Commager’s classic book The Story of the Second World War, published in November by Simon & Schuster/Lou Reda. Historian David McCullough, who won a Pulitzer Prize this month for his biography, John Adams, says, “The new, greatly revised and expanded edition of The Story of World War II is a major publishing event. Donald Miller’s addition to the original account are outstanding and the total effect is one few readers will ever forget.” Last month, Miller discussed the book on The History Channel’s “Hardcover History: The History Channel Book Club” and C-Span2’s “Book TV.”

Rebecca Waxman of Pittsburgh, Pa., interviewed veterans for their descriptions of World War II experiences.

“Interviewing the World War II veterans was one of the most amazing and life-changing experiences that I have had,” says Waxman, who graduated in June cum laude with degrees in psychology and history. The research sharpened her reading, writing, and research skills “beyond any imaginable possibility. I also learned how much hard work and dedication goes into writing a book and television series. In addition, I have learned more about World War II than I ever thought I would have in my regular classes. By interviewing various veterans, I have sharpened my interviewing and transcription skills.”

Miller is lead scholar and on-air host of A Biography of America, a video series and telecourse that aired on PBS stations throughout the country in 2000-01. The 26 half-hour programs cover the sweep of American history, from the pre-Columbian beginnings to the present. It was produced by WGBH Boston in cooperation with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress, and was funded by Annenberg/CPB.

Miller conceptualized and named the series and helped recruit the other nationally-known historians who participated. He wrote 17 of the scripts, edited the others, and hosted on-air interviews with numerous historians and novelists.

Miller is the author or editor of five previous books, including City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, published by Simon and Schuster in 1996, which won a Great Lakes Book Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The book was also nominated for the Urban History Award as best book in North American Urban History for 1996. Miller received the President’s Award of the Victorian Society in America for “outstanding contribution to an understanding of the Victorian world.”

His Lewis Mumford, A Life (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1989), the first full-scale biography of Mumford, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named one of the notable books of the year by the editors of the New York Times Book Review. It was also nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Bancroft Prize, the American Book Award, the John Hope Franklin Prize, and the Pen/Martha Allbrand Award for Nonfiction.

Miller, who served five years as Mumford’s literary executor, is also editor of The Lewis Mumford Reader (Pantheon Books, 1986). In July 1987 Miller represented Mumford at an awards ceremony and reception at the White House and accepted the National Medal for the Arts from President Reagan on Mumford’s behalf.

Miller authored The Kingdom of Coal: Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985) with Richard E. Sharpless, professor of history at Lafayette. Nominated for several prizes, including the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award, the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Bancroft Prize, Kingdom of Coal was reissued in April 1999 by the Canal History & Technology Press. A seven-part National Public Radio series by Miller and Sharpless based on the book won first prize in the Excellence in Broadcasting Competition in 1989.

Miller is also the author of New American Radicalism: Non-Marxian Radicalism in the 1930s (Kennikat Press, 1979).

In addition to A Biography of America, Miller has participated in the making of several other film documentaries, including “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided,” a six-hour presentation in the PBS series American Experience, that premiered Feb. 19-21, 2001.

Miller appears as an on-air scholar throughout the show, which is narrated by David McCullough. Miller also was a consultant to the producer and director, David Grubin, who wrote the script with Geoffrey C. Ward.

“We thought that Lincoln hadn’t been done right. People see him as a statue, a marble man,” says Miller. “This show takes a behind-the-scenes look. You get the mix of national events, but you also see how this president’s personal life impinged upon his public life. It’s not just a dual biography of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, it’s a very personal story.”

Miller also participated in “America 1900,” a three-hour program that kicked off the 11th season of American Experience in November 1998. The program received a coveted George Foster Peabody Award. Founded in 1940, the Peabody Award is administered by the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and is considered by many to be the most prestigious recognition of excellence in broadcasting and cable. Information from the Peabody Awards said of America 1900, “With historical perspective, informed analysis and sheer beauty, this program reviews the confidence, optimism, and anxiety that marked America at the turn of the last millennium.”

American Experience, television’s longest-running, most-watched history series, brings stories of the people and events that shaped the United States into nearly eight million homes each week. Now in its 14th season, the series has produced more than 130 programs and garnered every major broadcast award.

Miller has also written numerous articles for national publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune. He has won five awards for excellence in teaching, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.

Miller joined the Lafayette faculty in 1977. He holds a doctoral degree in American intellectual history from the University of Maryland, a master of arts degree from Ohio University, and a bachelor of arts degree from Saint Vincent College. Before coming to Lafayette he taught at Cornell University’s New York School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the City University of New York, and Monmouth College. In 1993 Saint Vincent College awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

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Lauren Sheldon ’04, an English major, assisted Donald L. Miller, John Henry MacCraken Professor of History, in collecting research and interviews for a future book on the Eighth Air Force.

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