Renowned Civil War Historian Creates Endowed Professorship

Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian and 1958 Gustavus alumnus Dr. James McPherson endowed the new professorship in American History.
Posted on December 19th, 2019 by

Professor Greg Kaster (left) with Gustavus alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian James McPherson '58.

Professor Greg Kaster (left) with Gustavus alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian James McPherson ’58.

One of the most acclaimed historians of the Civil War has established an endowed professorship in American history at Gustavus Adolphus College. Dr. James M. McPherson, professor emeritus at Princeton University and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, donated a major gift of $1 million to fund the new professorship.

McPherson is among the most respected and widely read scholars of American history. Author of more than 20 books, he won the Pulitzer Prize for the best-selling Battle Cry of Freedom, regarded as the preeminent single-volume history of the Civil War. Two more of his books have earned the Lincoln Prize. McPherson served as president of the American Historical Association and the Society of American Historians. He has also worked to communicate the latest research by academic historians to general audiences. McPherson has guided numerous tour groups at Civil War battlefields and taken a leading role in battlefield preservation.

Having grown up in Saint Peter, McPherson enrolled at Gustavus without a plan for a future career path or even a major. He developed a fascination with American history as an undergraduate and went on to earn his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University. McPherson spent his entire academic career at Princeton, joining the history department in 1962 and retiring in 2004 as George Henry Davis ’86 Professor of American History.

McPherson credits his Gustavus professors with preparing him to become a scholar, especially historians Rodney Davis and Doniver Lund and English professor Gerhard Alexis. McPherson recalls that the readings in Davis’ introductory course on European history, which he took in his first semester of college, were a particular challenge. “When (with difficulty) I managed to master this material, it was a revelation that inspired me to begin to think that I might be able to become a historian myself someday,” he said.

Dr. James McPherson (David Kelly Crow/Princeton University)

Dr. James McPherson (David Kelly Crow/Princeton University)

In establishing the professorship, McPherson seeks to support the kind of teaching and mentoring he gained as a student. “I wish to help Gustavus do for current and future students what the College did for me all those years ago,” he explained.

Provost and Dean of the College Brenda Kelly introduced history professor Greg Kaster to the Gustavus faculty last Friday as the first James and Patricia McPherson Endowed Professor of American History. A member of the Gustavus history department since 1986 and scholar of 19th-century American history, Kaster teaches courses on the Civil War era, slavery and abolitionism, and history in film. In 2018 he received the Edgar M. Carlson Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“James M. McPherson is the leading Civil War historian of our time,” Kaster said. “His generous gift––which also honors his late wife, Patricia––brings special distinction to the Gustavus history department. More importantly, it enhances our ability to provide students a challenging, engaging, and state-of-the-art education in historical thinking and writing that will serve them well no matter what paths they pursue as graduates.”

Professor Gregory Kaster

Professor Gregory Kaster

McPherson likewise sees an understanding of history as useful for students in various fields. “An ability to understand history and historical sources is valuable for whatever profession someone chooses to pursue.” He also maintains that awareness of history is essential for meeting our responsibilities as citizens. “Given all of the political and social and foreign policy issues Americans confront today, it is crucial that we know something about the historical evolution and context of these issues, if we are to solve them.”

Kelly explained that endowed professorships are integral to Gustavus’ mission as a liberal arts college. “Endowed professorships allow us to hire and retain exceptional faculty, who teach, research, and innovate within a liberal arts context,” she said. “We encourage our students to explore a variety of disciplines, including the humanities, sciences, and arts. With committed faculty as teachers and mentors, they are able to dig deeply into the disciplines they are passionate about in preparation for purposeful lives.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad



  1. Greg Kaster says:

    Thank you, Prof. McPherson! Having learned so much from your work over the years, I am especially honored, grateful, and delighted to be the initial holder of this professorship. My colleagues and I, and our students, are profoundly grateful for your extraordinarily generous commitment to the study of history at your alma mater.

  2. Scott Ickes says:

    Excellent news! Richly deserved!! Well done History Department!

  3. Ann Morris' 04 says:

    Congratulations Greg! I am so proud to be a graduate of the Gustavus history department. I have always thought it made me a better scholar and better citizen (regardless of the fact that I spend my days doing “hard” science). Very best wishes to you and Kate.

  4. Gerard Saylor says:

    Just saw the news in the email newsletter and followed the link to the article. This is very neat. Congratulations to Prof. Kaster.

    Gerard Saylor, 1993.

  5. John E. Ahlstrom says:

    I grew up with the McPherson family in St. Peter. They lived in a brick house on the corner of Fifth Street and College Avenue about 100 yards from the First Lutheran Church parsonage where I grew up. Jim was the oldest of the children and a very good high school basketball player. His Dad was a highly respected math teacher at St. Peter High School and I had him for several classes. Jim’s sister, Meredith were part of the Class of 1964. I have followed Jim’s great work from afar. I would assume that he is the most gifted scholar to graduate from SPHS and maybe GAC as well (although I’m a bit partial towards my uncle, Sydney E. Ahlstrom, Class of ’41, who taught religious history at Yale University and wrote “A Religious History of the American People” that earned him a NY Times Book Review Award in 1973). I extend warm greetings and best wishes to Jim and his family.

  6. Nadine Lysiak says:

    This is wonderful news!! Thank you Dr. McPherson and congratulations to Dr. Kaster.