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The Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History at William & Mary is named for Harrison Ruffin Tyler, the son of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, the College's seventeenth president and former chair of the History Department. The History Department was created with Professor Richard Lee Morton its first chair in 1921. The department's graduate program offers a Ph.D. in American History, as well as Master's Degree Programs in American History and Comparative History. The department is currently (2023) located in James Blair Hall. The building was known as Marshall-Wythe Hall from its opening in 1935 until 1968 when the former library (today's Tucker Hall) was renamed Marshall-Wythe Hall when it became the home of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

According to Tyler, a historian, History was first taught at William & Mary in 1803. In an address by Tyler to the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa titled "Early Courses and Professors at William & Mary College", Tyler stated:

"The study of history has been long emphasized at William & Mary. As we have seen several of the pre-revolutionary professors wrote histories, but the first to whom the subject was formally assigned for class work was Hugh L. Girardin (sic Louis Hue Girardin), the friend of Jefferson and historian of Virginia, who, in 1803, was professor of "Modern Languages, History and Geography. We know nothing of the details of his lectures, but it is to be assumed that the history taught was very different from the old time religious history embraced in the curriculum of Harvard in 1646, and that of the College of New Jersey in 1756."

The Department was named for Lyon G. Tyler starting in April 2004 after a $5 million donation given by Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Ruffin Tyler. Many manuscripts within the Tyler Family Series depict Lyon G. Tyler as a Confederate apologist supportive of the institution of slavery. Following a national and international reckoning with the legacies of racism, William & Mary and the Department of History changed the name of the department to honor the donor, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, as opposed to his father, in April 2021. This change, one of many at the time, came from recommendations by a working group on naming and renaming spaces at William & Mary.

Heads of the Department of History

Material in the Special Collections Research Center


  • "Appreciating the Contribution of Early Americans to the Ideals and Culture of our Country: Professionalization of Teaching Social History Williamsburg, Virginia, 1927-1943" by Andrea Kim Foster and Professor James Horton (April 1986), "History Department" folder, University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, William & Mary.
  • Tucker : an address to the Alpha Chapter of the PBK Society, call number LD6051 .W52 T8.
  • W&M Digital Archive, Catalogs Collection from 1829 - Present


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.