Editor's note: This is an updated version of this news release, correcting errors in the original draft regarding Williams' service at the University of Wisconsin and his health at the time of his retirement from OSU. News & Communication Services regrets the errors.
CORVALLIS, Ore. – A previously unpublished novel written by William Appleman Williams, one of the most acclaimed historians of the 20th century, has been newly released online by Oregon State University in an effort to make the manuscript as widely available as possible to scholars and others.
Titled Ninety Days Inside the Empire, the novel touches upon themes that were important to the author's life and work, perhaps best exemplified in his masterpiece, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. Set in Corpus Christi, Texas, and written in the 1980s, Williams’ newly released book tells the story of racial strife and civil rights mobilization through the eyes of military servicemen following the close of World War II.
A veteran of the United States Navy, Williams served as a line officer during the second world war. Following the close of hostilities, Williams was stationed in Corpus Christi, where he joined the NAACP and participated in local civil rights activities.
The web version of Ninety Days Inside the Empire spans 125 pages over 14 chapters. The text is enhanced by a number of illustrations and is introduced by Kerry Ahearn, chair of the OSU English department.
“Like millions of other veterans, [Williams] was moving from a life of following orders to one of making large choices,” writes Ahearn. “In his case, there was the predictable option of using his Annapolis degree and his connections to enter the military-industrial complex, or some other undefined option in an America whose definitions of community had been altered during the war: Women and minorities had been moved by necessity into much broader areas of economic production and created a social context that called into question the old rules of exclusion.”
Williams, who joined the OSU faculty in 1968 after 11 years as a nationally prominent historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, developed Ninety Days Inside the Empire substantially enough to share it with colleagues, with his agent and even with fellow author Gore Vidal, “who is said to have remarked that it would make a better movie than a novel,” writes Ahern. But for whatever reasons, he didn’t aggressively seek to publish the novel.
He retired in 1986 and died four years later, leaving his papers to OSU Special Collections, which oversaw preparation of the manuscript for its online release.
“This is a completed manuscript,” said OSU Special Collections head Clifford S. Mead. “We didn’t edit it, but divided it into chapters that seemed appropriate for a web-based presentation, and included images drawn from multiple sources.”
This innovative web-based project underscores new possibilities at OSU for making books available to students, scholars, and the wider community using e-books, digital printing and print-on-demand technologies. All are areas already being explored by Oregon State University Press, the state’s only academic press, which, like OSU Special Collections, is part of the university’s Valley Library.
In addition to the Williams papers, OSU Special Collections is home to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, including a treasure trove of personal memorabilia from the only two-time winner of individual Nobel Prizes, and the Bernard Malamud papers, and many other collections. It is part of the Valley Library.