Bernard Bailyn, Gordon S. Wood, Jacques Barzun, and Stanley Katz: Obama awards 2010 National Humanities Medals to historians

Source: National Endowment for the Humanities Press Release, 3-1-11

President Barack Obama announced the ten winners of the 2010 National Humanities Medals, awarded for outstanding achievements in history, literature, education, and cultural policy. The medalists are: authors Wendell E. Berry, Joyce Carol Oates, and Philip Roth; historians Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood; literary scholars Daniel Aaron, Roberto González Echevarría, and Arnold Rampersad; cultural historian Jacques Barzun; and legal historian and higher education policy expert Stanley Nider Katz. The medals were presented at a White House ceremony on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

The official citations honoring the medalists are:

  • Daniel Aaron for his contributions to American literature and culture. As the founding president of the Library of America, he helped preserve our nation’s heritage by publishing America’s most significant writing in authoritative editions. (Read profile.)
  • Bernard Bailyn for illuminating the nation’s early history and pioneering the field of Atlantic history. Bailyn, who spent his career at Harvard, has won two Pulitzer Prizes, the first for The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution; and the second for Voyagers to the West. (Read profile.)
  • Jacques Barzun for his distinguished career as a scholar, educator, and public intellectual. One of the founders of the field of cultural history, Barzun taught at Columbia University for five decades and has written and edited more than thirty books. (Read profile.)
  • Wendell E. Berry for his achievements as a poet, novelist, farmer, and conservationist. The author of more than forty books, Berry has spent his career exploring our relationship with the land and the community. (Read profile.)
  • Roberto González Echevarría for his contributions to Spanish and Latin American literary criticism. His path-breaking Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative is the most cited scholarly work in Hispanic literature. González Echevarría teaches at Yale University. (Read profile.)
  • Stanley Nider Katz for a career devoted to fostering public support for the humanities. As director of the American Council of Learned Societies for more than a decade, he expanded the organization’s programs and helped forge ties between libraries, museums, and foundations.  (Read profile.)
  • Joyce Carol Oates for her contributions to American letters. The author of more than fifty novels, as well as short stories, poetry, and non-fiction, Oates has been honored with the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Short Story. (Read profile.)
  • Arnold Rampersad for his work as a biographer and literary critic. His award-winning books have profiled W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison. He has also edited critical editions of the works of Richard Wright and Langston Hughes. (Read profile.)
  • Philip Roth for his contributions to American letters. Roth is the author of twenty-four novels, including Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral, which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. His criticism has appeared in American Poetry Review and The New York Times Book Review. (Read profile.)
  • Gordon S. Wood for scholarship that provides insight into the founding of the nation and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. Wood is author and editor of eighteen books, including The Radicalism of the American Revolution, for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize. (Read profile.)

The medals, first awarded as the Charles Frankel Prize in 1989, will be presented during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. After the ceremony, the medalists and their families and friends will join the President and First Lady Michelle Obama for a reception in their honor.

Since 1996, when the first National Humanities Medal was given, 125 individuals have been honored, inclusive of this year’s awardees. Nine organizations also received medals. Previous medalists include Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, novelist John Updike, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, sociologist Robert Coles, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

John McWhorter: Black History Month Is Over — Very Over

Source: The Root/NPR, 3-1-11

…The sheer below-the-radar obscurity of these things is their value, as well as the fact that in any given year, there are countless similar phenomena going on. They show that an awareness of black history has penetrated our national consciousness in a way that would have pleased Carter G. Woodson, who inaugurated Negro History Week in 1926. They go on and on: In 2004, white historian Eric Rauchway wrote a book about that Buffalo Exposition, quite unconnected from the aforementioned commemoration planners, memorably highlighting the black man who made a valiant effort to rescue President William McKinley from an assassin’s bullet.

And a larger turn of events tells the same story. After all, we now have a National Museum of African American History and Culture — which will have its own location on the Mall in Washington, D.C., by 2015. Surely that, along with the funding it has been granted and the considerable national publicity it attracts, indicates some uptick in acceptance that black history is part of American history.

Or what about the Pulitzer that Isabel Wilkerson’s chronicle of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, will likely get? Also, imagine telling, say, Stokely Carmichael in 1967 that in 2010, a book about the harvesting of a black woman’s cancer cells (Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) would be as ecstatically received as Wilkerson’s and be made into a film?

The days when black history could be described as marginalized in American life are now, themselves, history. Yet somehow we hold on to a delicate contradiction under which all of the things I have mentioned and so much more are true, but we say that America is still “insufficiently aware of” black history. Isn’t it really just that we’re used to Black History Month, the way we’re used to an old armchair? It’s no longer that we think it’s accomplishing anything. It’s just, in our minds, supposed to be there because it always has been.

It is often charged that a writer chooses a stance like this one out of a recreational quest to be “controversial.” Maybe some do, but that’s not where this is coming from. Writing, for me, is not a matter of sitting down and working up ways to make people angry. I simply write what I feel, with a suspicion that I am not alone, and I almost never am.

Black History Month has accomplished what it was established to do, and part of acknowledging that is to let it go — with a spirit of joy and victory. Do I think it’s an issue of code-red importance that every February we pretend that America learns anything serious about black history? Of course not. But since about 1995, what Black History Month has reminded me every year is that the battle it was designed for has been won. Maybe we can think of it as a month celebrating America‘s having come to celebrate black history.

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