Sean Wilentz received his Ph.D. in history from Yale University (1980) after earning bachelor’s degrees from Columbia University (1972) and Balliol College, Oxford University (1974). His most recent study, "No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding," based on his Nathan I. Huggins Lectures at Harvard, appeared in 2018 and was the recipient of the annual Thomas A. Cooley Book Prize for the best book on the Constitution, awarded by the Georgetown University Law Center.

Wilentz has received numerous fellowships from, among other institutions, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Academy in Berlin.