Hillsdale College’s history department will gain a prestigious new faculty member next fall: Wilfred M. McClay.
Currently the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, McClay will make the move to Hillsdale following the end of the spring 2021 semester.
“My experience with Hillsdale is of an extraordinary community, built upon a shared love of the highest and noblest things,” McClay said in an email. “That too is vanishingly rare, and I count myself blessed to have the opportunity to share the life of that community, and I hope to contribute something good and lasting to it.”
According to McClay, the discussion of joining Hillsdale’s faculty began over the summer of 2019 when he came to campus for a week to film lectures for his online course on American History. After some persuasion and paperwork, McClay is now set to begin teaching the American Heritage courses this fall, but may expand beyond that in following semesters.
Already well known as a public intellectual, McClay gained additional prominence last year after publishing “Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story.” The history textbook serves as an alternative to socialist thinker Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” which has been used in high-school classrooms across the country since the 1980s, as well as the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which seeks to “reframe” the country’s history by dating America’s founding to the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619, rather than Independence Day.
McClay said his book aims to teach a full, unbiased account of America’s story: extolling its virtues, confronting its dark times, and instilling a sense of patriotism in students. “Land of Hope” is now the standard textbook for Hillsdale’s American Heritage courses and is used in several Barney Charter Schools throughout the nation. McClay’s work has also caught the attention of the Trump administration. In September, he was a panelist on the White House Conference on American History, which took place on Constitution Day, and was moderated by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn.
“Bill McClay’s textbook answers a great need,” Arnn said. “It’s really hard to write a good textbook and it’s hard to get people who are competent to do it. That’s not what their first instinct is to write. And then darned if Bill McClay didn’t just produce one. And then by some coincidence, he ends up working here. How’d that happen?”
Professor of History and Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies Bradley Birzer said it is a “thrill” to have McClay join the faculty, describing him as “one of the greats.”
“He’s as kind as a person as he is brilliant as a scholar,” Birzer said. “His work on American culture and individualism is really outstanding and unparalleled in breadth as well as depth. Additionally, his recent book, ‘Land of Hope,’ places him firmly within the pantheon of American history demigods. We are truly blessed on a professional as well as on a personal level.”
McClay said there’s a lot to look forward to about coming to Hillsdale.
“Oh, where do I begin?” he mused. “I have always been impressed by the caliber of Hillsdale students, and that will be a big, big plus for me. It’s also going to be a pleasure to teach in an institution that has such an intelligent and well-integrated program. I am looking forward to working with some great colleagues in the history department, and other members of the Hillsdale faculty, many of them people I’ve known and admired for years.”
Above all, however, McClay said he admires Hillsdale’s dedication to its purpose.
“I am excited to be a part of an institution that has held fast to the most fundamental mission of higher education, at a time when others have lost their way entirely,” he said.