William G. Thomas III is a historian, author, and digital media and film producer. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, he writes about American history, law, slavery, and the Civil War. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Lincoln Prize Finalist.
He is the author of A Question of Freedom: The Families Who Challenged Slavery from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War (November 2020, Yale University Press), about enslaved families in Maryland who sued for their freedom in the decades after the American Revolution.
With partners Michael Burton and Kwakiutl Dreher, Will co-founded Salt Marsh Productions, LLC, in 2017 to tell stories that bring American history to life. Will, Mike, and Kwakiutl are co-producing Animating History, a series of live action animated documentary films. The first of these films, Anna, was released in 2018 and won Best Animation at the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles. The second, The Bell Affair, is in production.
Will’s research and digital media productions attempt to demonstrate the full capability of digital scholarship to give voice to people whose lives have been out of reach and to send their histories into the public and scholarly realms through digital media. He served as the co-founder and Director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, where he was an Assistant and Associate Professor of History in the Corcoran Department of History. He was a co-editor the award-winning digital project, Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. With Edward L. Ayers, he co-authored “The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities,” one of the first pieces of digital scholarship published in the American Historical Review.
A dedicated teacher and mentor, Will was Chair of the Department of History and guided the department to the University-wide Departmental Teaching Award in 2017. Will received the Hazel R. McClymont Distinguished Teaching Fellow Award in 2012 from the College of Arts and Sciences at Nebraska, the highest award for teaching in the College. He was named a Mead Honored Faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia in 2004-05 in recognition for his dedication to undergraduate teaching.
Will has published essays in Civil War History, The Journal of Historical Geography, The New York Times, The Washington Post, EDUCAUSE Review, and Inside Higher Education. He is a graduate of Trinity College (Connecticut) and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia. He currently serves on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and Records Administration.