We are very pleased to share the news that a number of authors whom we’ve been honored to publish over the years have been named recipients of the 2011 National Humanities Medal. The medals will be awarded by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House this afternoon, which will be streamed live at 1:45 ET. The medals, given since 1997, honor “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.”
One 2011 recipient with whom we’ve had a long relationship is Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, author most recently of The Idea of Justice. The NEH has produced short bios of each recipient, and their coverage of Sen explains away the potential incongruity of seeing an economist awarded a medal for work in the humanities:
When Amartya Sen recounts his intellectual biography, he likes to emphasize different strands of his thought rather than present a unified narrative. “It has been clear from my childhood that I have a lot of curiosity,” he explains, “and unfortunately, or fortunately, it has not been limited to one subject.” This momentary indecision, this uncertainty about considering his diverse interests as good or bad luck, represents the glory and the paradox of his career… Sen’s early work focused on economics, but the social sciences and the humanities are not discontinuous for him. “I don’t really find the division between the subjects contrary to human understanding,” he says, “but if someone were to say to me, you’re an economist and you can’t study philosophy, that would be contrary to how the human mind works.” In the past three decades, he has written on violence, peace, development, equality, and cultural identity—a true marriage of economics and the humanities.
Also receiving the medal this year is the pianist and critic Charles Rosen, whose fourth HUP book will be published this spring. The book, a collection entitled Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature, contains Rosen’s ruminations on everything and everyone from Mozart to melancholy, Adorno to opera, and the canon to California. From the NEH bio:
Charles Rosen, one of America’s great writers on music, began his writing career almost as an afterthought. In 1951, the year he turned twenty-four, Rosen earned his PhD in French literature from Princeton, made his New York performing debut, and recorded his first album. The native New Yorker quickly became one of America’s most renowned classical pianists, playing in recitals and as a soloist in orchestra concerts around the world. His career blossomed so rapidly that, by 1955, Rosen was able to leave his academic position teaching French at MIT after only two years, although he’s held many distinguished temporary academic positions since, including at Harvard, Oxford, and Chicago universities… Rosen’s career as one the country’s preeminent classical performers triggered his parallel vocation as a writer about music. He had shunned the subject while in college, where he majored in French literature. “I was too proud to take courses in music,” he recalls. “I don’t mean to sound snotty, but it’s true: I knew more about music than most of the music graduate students,” having studied piano since he was four years old and read much on his own. Unimpressed by the sleeve notes for one of his 1960 recordings, Rosen decided henceforth to write his own.
Andrew Delbanco is another medal recipient with an HUP book arriving this spring: The Abolitionist Imagination, which presents essays intended to give readers a sense of what it meant to be a thoughtful citizen in nineteenth-century America, appalled by slavery yet aware of the fragility of the republic and the high cost of radical action. This volume follows several other works of Delbanco’s that we’ve published, going all the way back to 1981. The NEH describes Delbanco as “the definition of a public intellectual,” and notes his “combination of deep learning, eloquence, and a deft, original way of considering our national history and literature.”
Robert Darnton, whose 2010 book Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris represents only the most recent product of a long relationship with HUP, receives this medal in the midst of his rise to prominence as a driving force behind the creation of the Digital Public Library of America. He is being awarded the medal for his “determination to make knowledge accessible to everyone,” and, as the NEH notes, he is also known for helping to create the discipline of the history of the book:
“The basic idea is not to just assume that a book is a vehicle of ideas, but to understand how it’s a force in history,” Darnton explains. “To ask how is it produced, how is it diffused, how deeply did it penetrate into society, and then—this is tough—how was it read? What was its effect? Looking at the printed word makes you reassess some classical questions—in my case, questions about the origins of the French Revolution.”
And, finally, we’re pleased to note that Kwame Anthony Appiah is also among this year’s recipients. We had the pleasure of working with Appiah when we published his Mary Flexner Lectures in 2007 as Experiments in Ethics. The collection, noted for being clear, accessible, and funny, explored how the new scientifically-enabled research on empirical moral psychology relates to the age-old project of philosophical ethics. Appiah also delivered the 2010 W.E.B. Du Bois lectures, which we are slated to publish in expanded form in the near future. He receives the National Humanities Medal for “seeking eternal truths in the contemporary world” and for producing a body of work that sheds “moral and intellectual light on the individual in an era of globalization and evolving group identities.”
Our sincere congratulations to Sen, Rosen, Delbanco, Darnton, and Appiah, as well as to their co-recipients John Ashbery, Teofilo Ruiz, Ramón Saldívar, and National History Day.