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Donald L. Miller, Lafayette’s John Henry MacCracken Professor of History, is featured as an on-air scholar in The History Channel’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America.”

The documentary, which premiered April 14, is based on Jay Winik’s best-selling book, April 1865.

The program examines “the most pivotal 30 days in the history of the United States, a time when all signs pointed to a disastrous end for the young country.” These 30 days encompass the final days of the Civil War — from the frenzied fall of Richmond to Lee’s harrowing retreat, from the surrender at Appomattox to Lincoln’s assassination, and the beginning attempts to reconstruct the United States.

“The producers had a clear idea of breaking with the traditional documentary format, which has a lot of ‘talking heads,’” says Miller. “They had a lot of passion for the project. It’s great to work with people who have innovative minds.”

The program presents a very different picture than most people’s conception of the end of the Civil War, he notes.

“In the rote narrative line of standard texts, you get Lee’s retreat from Richmond and surrender at Appomattox, and that’s the end of the story,” says Miller. “But as Jay points out in his book, it’s much more complex than that. The Civil War could have easily gone on. Lee could have taken his armies into the back woods, which some of his commanders were urging him to do. They could have fought a guerilla war, and it would have been very difficult to capture those soldiers. That would have presented enormous headaches for Sherman and Grant, who counted on fighting straight-on battles.”

Before being captured, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis urged his generals to keep fighting and called for guerilla warfare.

“In Missouri, there was some of the most savage internecine warfare with horrible civilian violence,” says Miller. “What the film suggests is that something like this continuing on for many months was not out of the realm of possibility. The Civil War has been done many times, but this is a different take on it.”

More information about the program can be found at A special Teacher’s Guide for “April 1865” will be available to educators. The History Channel now reaches more than 82 million households.

Miller has been involved in numerous history-related television projects — most recently, the PBS series “Chicago: City of the Century” premiered nationwide Jan. 13-15, based on Miller’s book City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America (see related story). Miller appears in the program as an on-air scholar and played a key role as creative consultant in its development. The program made its debut in three 90-minute episodes in prime time in the longest-running, most-watched history series on television, American Experience.

The show charts Chicago’s breathtaking growth from remote fur-trading post to a massive metropolis that was the quintessential American city of the 19th century. “The story of Chicago is the story of the emergence of modern America,” says Miller. “In a time of makers and dreamers, Chicago was the site of some of the greatest achievements and failures of American urban life.” A companion Web site is available at The Washington Post hosted a live online discussion with Miller Jan. 14 and posted the transcript.

A feature interview with Miller about the PBS series appears in the March 2003 issue of American Heritage magazine. He has recently been named a contributing editor of American Heritage.

City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America is being reissued by Simon & Schuster. Published in 1996, it won a Great Lakes Book Award and the President’s Award of the Victorian Society in America as best book on the Victorian World and was nominated for a dozen other prestigious prizes.

Another of Miller’s books, Lewis Mumford, A Life, has recently been selected by Grove Press for inclusion in its new “Grove Great Lives” series of award-winning and classic biographies of the 20th century. The first full-scale biography of Mumford, it was published in 1989 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson. It was 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.

Also, Miller is serving as on-air host for two films, Stalag 17 and The Battle of the Bulge, in The History Channel’s Movies in Time series. As host, Miller introduces the movies and speaks about them during an intermission and at the conclusion.

The College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland, where he earned a doctorate in American intellectual history, has named Miller its Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. He will be honored at a gala this month.

Miller has participated in the making of other American Experience documentaries, including “Ulysses S. Grant,” “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided,” and “America 1900.”

He played a prominent role in the production of “Ulysses S. Grant,” which premiered in May 2002 (see related story). He 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.

Miller also appears in “Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided” and was a consultant to the producer and director, David Grubin, who wrote the script with Geoffrey C. Ward (see related story). Narrated by David McCullough, it premiered in February 2001.

“America 1900” kicked off the 11th season of American Experience in November 1998. It received a 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.”

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 (see related story). 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’s books have received critical acclaim and been nominated for almost every major national literary prize. His most recent book is The Story of World War II (Simon & Schuster, 2001), a revised, expanded, and updated version of Henry Steele Commager’s classic (see related story) The Story of the Second World War.

Drawing on a vast trove of previously unpublished eyewitness interviews, Miller’s work contains text that is more than 75 percent new, more than 100 photographs, and nearly two dozen maps. The book provides extensive new coverage of, among other things, the war in the Pacific, the air war, the liberation of the death camps, and the contributions of African-Americans, women, and Japanese-Americans. Miller places the personal accounts of soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, and war correspondents in a historical context that was unavailable to Commager as he wrote in the heat of the conflict.

David McCullough 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.”

As with nearly all of his books and other projects, Miller actively engaged Lafayette students in the research for The Story of World War II.

As a participant in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend, Rebecca Waxman ’01 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 cum laude with degrees in psychology and history.

Janine Stavrovsky of Bethlehem, Pa., a senior double majoring in environmental biology and geology, focused primarily on an investigation of World War II transcripts that offered first-hand accounts from American soldiers involved in the Pacific.

“Although I will never know what it’s really like in combat, these letters from soldiers provided me with a better concept of war in its totality,” she says.

Currently, Miller is writing a book on the Eighth Air Force in World War II (see related story). He has received assistance from EXCEL Scholars Emily Goldberg, a sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Katherine Blair, a junior double majoring in religion & politics and history from Marco Island, Fla.; and Lauren Sheldon, a junior English major from Somerville, N.J.

“Professor Miller is just great to work with,” says Sheldon. “He lets us work independently, which really makes you learn a lot. I’ve really enriched my research skills by working with him.”

Miller, who served five years as Lewis 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).

He 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 and 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. In addition to his doctorate from the University of Maryland, he holds 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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Katherine Blair ’04 assisted Donald L. Miller, John Henry MacCraken Professor of History, in collecting research and interviews for a book on the U.S. Eighth Air Force.

Categorized in: Academic News