McNeill, William H.

McNeill, William H. (Hardy)

(1917–  ) historian; born in Vancouver, Canada. He studied at the University of Chicago (B.A. 1938; M.A. 1939) and at Cornell (Ph.D. 1947), and, except for occasional visiting professorships elsewhere, he taught his entire career at the University of Chicago (1947). Running counter to the trend of his contemporary academics, who tended to specialize in ever smaller periods and topics, he took on a wide variety of subjects in such books as Venice: The Hinge of Europe, 1081–1797 or The Metamorphosis of Greece since World War II (1978). Beyond such studies, he became one of the few modern historians since Arnold Toynbee who dared to take on the world's history, and in books such as The Rise and Fall of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963; National Book Award, 1964) and The Human Condition: An Ecological and Historical View (1980), McNeill recognized the ambiguity of human experience while expressing the hope that historical studies might enhance practical wisdom. He also served as editor-in-chief of Readings in World History (ten vols. 1968–73).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.