Joseph J. Ellis was born in Washington, D.C. on July 18, 1943. He earned a B.A. from the College of William and Mary in 1965 and a M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Yale University in 1969. He was an instructor in the department of American studies at Yale University from 1968 to 1969 and an assistant professor in the department of history and social studies at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1969 to 1972. He began his career at Mount Holyoke College as assistant professor in the department of history in 1972 and was made professor in 1979. Ellis was dean of the faculty at Mount Holyoke from 1980 to 1990. He is also a Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. He has published articles, essays, reviews, and opinion pieces in such periodicals as American Heritage, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Civilization. He has appeared on C-SPAN and Fox News and was a participant in the 1997 Ken Burns PBS documentary Thomas Jefferson. In 1997, Ellis published American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and in 1998 he co-authored the article in Nature that accompanied the controversial study of the descendants of Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemmings. He has received several awards including the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx in 1997 and the Pulitzer Prize for History for Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation in 2001.