Faculty Profiles

Tracy McKenzie faculty photo

Tracy McKenzie, Ph.D.

Arthur F. Holmes Chair of Faith and Learning; Professor of History

On Faculty since 2010
Blanchard 206


Professor McKenzie is married to his best friend of thirty-three years, Robyn. He and Robyn have three adult children: Callie, Margaret, and Robert. His favorite movie is Chariots of Fire followed by Father of the Bride. He has two favorite books: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger—the former for how it makes him think and the latter for how it thrills his heart. Professor McKenzie blogs about Christian faith and American History and you can follow his reflections at https://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com/

Tracy McKenzie joined the History Department in the fall of 2010 after twenty-two years on the faculty of the University of Washington, where he held the Donald W. Logan Endowed Chair in American History. For most of his professional career, his research has focused on the effects of the American Civil War on the economy and society of the Upper South. His first book, One South or Many? Plantation Belt and Upcountry in Civil War-Era Tennessee (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), investigated the economic effects of war and emancipation on the southern countryside, and received best-book awards from the Agricultural History Society and the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch. His next monograph was Lincolnites and Rebels: A Divided Town in the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). Recipient of the annual Fletcher Pratt Literary Award for best non-fiction work on the Civil War, Lincolnites and Rebels explored the civil war within the Civil War by tracing the experience of a single community split asunder by the sectional crisis.

Since coming to Wheaton, Professor McKenzie has turned his attention to the ways in which American evangelicals have remembered their national heritage. Toward that end, he authored a book on memory of the 'First Thanksgiving,' titled The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History (InterVarsity Press, 2013).  At present he is at work on a study of the rise of American democracy to be titled "We the Fallen People."  His introduction to the study of history, A Little Book for New Historians, will be published by Intervarsity Press in 2019.

Vanderbilt University
Ph.D., History, 1988

Vanderbilt University
M.A., History, 1984

University of Tennessee
B.A., History, 1982

  • American History
  • Jacksonian Democracy
  • The American Civil War
  • The Economy of the South
  • Southern Society
  • Slavery and Emancipation
  • Lincoln
  • The First Thanksgiving
  • Christians and Historical Memory

The First Thanksgiving: The Real Story
Our American Stories

Thanksgiving is the only American holiday that has actually remained relatively innocent—it’s not something that we have been able to commercialize. But there’s something going on here more than feasting, family, and football.
Robert Tracy McKenzie is a professor of history at Wheaton College and is the author of The First Thanksgiving. He’s here to tell us the story of this quintessentially American holiday. 
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Virginia’s forgotten thanksgiving story

The pilgrims feasted with their friends in the fall of 1621. But there were at least a half dozen other thanksgiving observances that predate the pilgrims, said Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at Wheaton College who has studied the origins of the modern American holiday. Native Americans widely held celebrations linked to crops and the harvest. Among European settlers, Spanish colonists likely hosted thanksgiving in what today is known as Texas, and they also celebrated thanksgiving, likely a Catholic mass, in Florida in the 1560s. French Huguenots also gave thanks in Florida. And English colonists celebrated in Maine in the early 1600s, McKenzie said. But Virginians weren’t too far behind and did beat the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock fame by a few years, including an observance in 1610 and another in 1619, McKenzie said...
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Chris Thompson: Black Friday creep, Thanksgiving and a Christian ethic
Alaska Dispatch News

Thanksgiving started as a harvest celebration among the Pilgrims and the local Native Americans in the Plymouth Colony. Robert Tracy McKenzie, professor and chair of the History Department at Wheaton College and author of the wonderful book "The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History," notes the key reasons pushing the Pilgrims to our shores: “In contrast, the Pilgrims’ struggle … speaks to us where we live. Their hardships in Holland were so ... ordinary. They worried about their children’s future. They feared the effects of a corrupt and permissive culture. They had a hard time making ends meet. They wondered how they would provide for themselves in old age. (Can you relate to any of their worries?) And in contrast to their success in escaping persecution, they found the cares of the world much more difficult to evade.”...
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Southern Labor and Reconstruction, A Companion to the Civil War and Reconstruction, 2005
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Contesting Secession: Parson Brownlow and the Rhetoric of Proslavery Unionism, 1860–1861, Civil War History, 2002
During the American Civil War there were few Southern Unionists better known in the North than Rev. William G. “Parson” Brownlow of East Tennessee. A regionally prominent figure before the war, the controversial Methodist minister and newspaper editor became ...
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Wealth and Income: The Preindustrial Structure of East Tennessee in 1860, Appalachian Journal, 1994
Recent scholarship about the 19th-century South has developed a renewed appreciation for diversity. Although not oblivious to heterogeneity, scholars writing prior to the 1980s were inclined to focus disproportionately upon the major plantation sections of the Deep South ...
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Freedmen and the Soil in the Upper South: The Reorganization of Tennessee Agriculture, 1865-1880, The Journal of Southern History, 1993
In an 1883 report to the Tennessee Legislature, State Commissioner of agriculture Joseph Buckner Killebrew addressed widespread complaints regarding the unreliability of black labor." Our labor system," he explained," as it regards the farm, may ...
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Postbellum Tenancy in Fayette County, Tennessee: Its Implications for Economic Development and Persistent Black Poverty, Agricultural History, 1987
During the last decade both economic and social historians have paid increasing attention to the postbellum South. Though with different emphases, both have concentrated heavily on the new labor arrangements that emerged in the wake of emancipation. This is as it ...
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