Jim Downs

Gilder Lehrman NEH Chair of Civil War Era Studies and History

Civil War Era Studies



Campus Box 0401


Weidensall Hall
Room 202
300 North Washington St.
Gettysburg, PA 17325-1400


PhD Columbia University, 2005
MA Columbia University, 2001
BA University of Pennsylvania, 1995
Other Harvard University, 2016

Academic Focus

Civil War Era Studies, History of Medicine and Public Health, African-American Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies

Jim Downs is the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History. He is the author of Sick From Freedom: African American Sickness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford UP, 2012), Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016) and Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine (Harvard UP, 2021) which has been translated into Chinese, French, Korean, Japanese, and Russian.

He has edited several anthologies, including Beyond Freedom: Disrupting the History of Emancipation, coedited with David Blight (University of Georgia Press, 2017) and Connexions: Histories of Race and Sex in North America (University of Illinois Press, 2016) coedited with Jennifer Brier and Jennifer Morgan.

Downs is the co-series editor of History in the Headlines, at the University of Georgia Press, and published Voter Suppression in U.S. Elections, which grew out of a conversation he moderated with Stacey Abrams, Carol Anderson, Kevin M. Kruse, Heather Cox Richardson and Heather Ann Thompson He recently edited January 6th and the Politics of History, which is conversation he moderated with Joanne B. Freeman, Elizabeth Hinton, Jill Lepore, Stephanie McCurry, William Sturkey and Julian E. Zelizer

He has published articles and essays in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Slate, Vice, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The LA TIMES, The Chronicle of Higher Education,  The L.A. Review of Books, among others. Downs has published book chapters in number of edited volumes, most recently in Remembering the Memphis Massacre: An American Story (UGA Press, 2020).

Downs is Editor of Civil War History. He was awarded the Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellowship at the Hutchins Center for African and African American History at Harvard University in 2022-23. In 2022, he received a NEH grant to direct a summer institute, Civil War Archives: A New Social and Culture History, for faculty in higher education at Gettysburg College.

In 2023, Downs was elected to was elected to the Society for American Historians in the US, the Royal Historical Society in the UK and to the Executive Council of the Southern Historical Association. In 2024, Downs was named the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was the first Library of Congress founded by Ben Franklin.

He earned his PhD in History at Columbia University, his MA in American Studies also at Columbia University, and his BA in American Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. The Organization of American Historians named him a Distinguished Lecturer in 2014-17, which was then renewed in 2017 and again in 2020 and 2023.  In 2015-16, Downs was awarded an Andrew W. Mellon New Directions Fellowship that allowed him to return to graduate school where he gained postgraduate training in medical anthropology and global health at Harvard University.



Courses Taught