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Jefferson Lecture

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jefferson Lecture
Awarded for Distinguished intellectual achievement in humanities
Location Washington, D.C.
Country United States
Presented by National Endowment for the Humanities
First awarded 1972

The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is an honorary lecture series established in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). According to the NEH, the Lecture is "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."[1]

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  • 2017 Jefferson Lecture: NEH Chairman William Adams Interviews Martha Nussbaum
  • Jon Meacham: "Thomas Jefferson: the Art of Power" | Talks at Google
  • 2011 Jefferson Lecture
  • Martha Nussbaum Jefferson Lecture Announcement
  • Anger and Forgiveness | Lecture by philosopher Martha Nussbaum


People who care about the humanities a lot I think are very grateful to you for having written your book not-for-profit Which made the case for the importance of the humanities in the context of American democratic life You've recently redone the preface to that, and I wanted to ask you How are the humanities doing now in your view, and have things changed substantially since you've finished that book and the moment when you took up this new preface? Well I guess I was pleasantly surprised when I started looking at data, looking at data not just of majors Which there is some reason to worry about, but data of total enrollments in humanities' courses Big increase in community colleges, that's really interesting to me. And in adult education, a huge upsurge Which is not that surprising because I think humanities respond to peoples' searches for meaning and life So it's not surprising that people who have been working hard and then they want to pause and they want to think about what life is all about So those things I found very interesting, I was also very happy that my book has now got company Fareed Zakaria's excellent book, Michael Roth's excellent book, so I think there are lots of voices now speaking up What I also learned in the process, is how lucky we are in the United States to have the liberal arts system Because in most countries in the world, if you go to university, you have to decide, all English literature or no literature All philosophy or no philosophy. But since we have a system that has two parts, one part is general education, and one part is your major You can plan if your parents say you got to major in computer science, you can do that, but you can also- and you should I think be required to take general education courses in humanities that prepare you for the larger job of being a good citizen and having a full life So, we better cling to that system because it's what has made the humanities really survive and strengthen themselves in the United States So how do you think we should cling to it in the following way, as I travel around, and I do travel to many colleges and universities I've sensed some weakening of that resolve to offer that liberal learning aspiration for higher education What should we be doing in your view to reinforce that way of thinking about the aspirations of higher education in this country? Well I think there are really three points that you can make, the one that I make, and I think we should put front and center is the crucial role of the humanities in preparing people to be good citizens. The role of critical thinking, analyzing arguments the role of expanding the imagination to come to grips with the way a person who experiences life who's quite different from yourself And the role of history and, well I'll include the social sciences here, in making it possible to really understand the complicated world, the interlocking world that we are in. So I think that's the first point. But there are other things we can say. Business leaders actually love the humanities because they know that If our business culture is going to continue growing and innovating, to innovate you don't need skills that you learned yesterday by rote You need a trained imagination. And so all over the place I encounter business leaders who are saying STEM is okay, But really we also need the humanities and particularly the imaginative aspect We also need healthy business cultures that have criticism and dissent. When there is a culture of complacency and go along to get along, then bad things happen and businesses implode and whistle-blowers are discouraged So I think that's the second general point that for economic growth we need the humanities Singapore and China, which certainly don't want to encourage democratic citizenship, still are building the humanities and that's very interesting, they've had major educational reforms, and it is all about building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship Then the third thing is just the search for meaning in life, I mean life is about a lot more than what you are earning your living at and people at all ages need to start thinking about a meaningful life, or else when they get to be in middle age or when they are verging on aging You know, they'll suddenly realize, my life is feeling empty but I haven't even begun to reflect about what life is for, what it means So I think all those three points can be made, I made the focus on citizenship largely because I think I can reach out to people who don't already care about the humanities, who don't respond to that call for meaning. And they can see that if we want a political culture of informed dissent and civilized argument, we really need the humanities. Some people who care about the humanities and wish for its success have also worried about some of the trends within the humanities. And there have been criticisms leveled at some humanists for recent developments intellectually within the humanities As having been discouraging of expansive student interest, for example the critique of certain more obscure methodologies, deconstructionists come in for some criticism And difficult language attached to some expressions of humanistic work. How do you think about those criticisms and what are your views? Well I do think there's a lot of bad writing, and I worry about that in philosophy, I worry about it even more in literary studies Because I think there's perhaps more obscure and gimmicky writing, but I actually wouldn't blame it on any one methodology I think the issue really is that we, when a profession is protected by academic freedom and tenure, it tends to turn inward And to a large extent that's good. People don't have to be journalists, they can do what they love to do. And when I look back to the great philosophers of the past who wrote so beautifully, Rosseau, John Stuart Mill You know, they had to write beautifully because they had to sell to journalism or to sell books to the general public because they could not hold positions in universities. Mill was an atheist and therefore he could not hold a position in a university. So, I think the minute that people do go indoors, so to speak, there's a big risk, that it is a good thing that we are protected by tenure and academic freedom but we should realize that that creatures a risk of getting cut off from the general public and we should work hard on writing. Now the problem is if I say to my graduate students, "try to write for the general public" where are they going to publish it? That's really difficult. I mean there are fewer and fewer media outlets for such writing. If you think back to Partisan Review and journals of various kinds in the 30's and 40's, there were writers like Lionel Trilling who could easily reach out and just talk to the general public And so of course they developed this beautiful, lucid, communicative style. In my early days I had opportunities to do that largely through book reviews, and that was still possible. So, New York Review of Books, The New Republic of the old days before they changed And I remember having lunch with John Rawls, the great philosopher one day, in this little restaurant in Cambridge, 'Bartley's Burger Cottage' And I said, "look I've been invited to write something for the New York Review of Books but it's a deflection from my serious philosophical writing. Do you think I should do it?" And Rawls, who had a stammer and so he never liked to speak in public, and he was just generally quite shy, he said, "well, you know, I don't know how to do this kind of communication, but if you can do it, you have a moral duty to do it" And I still take that very, very seriously. So that often if I've done something more specialized that I love, I feel "now I have a duty to do a different kind of thing". And that's why I wrote not-for-profit. Because I just finished doing a book called "Frontiers of Justice" which was more specialized and I love doing it but then I thought, "okay, now is time to give back and to do something that would maybe move the needle a little in the public debate" but to do that you have to be ready to write in that way, so the problem is that if you don't have the outlets already, the way I do fortunately, then what am I going to say to my graduate students? Where will they publish this fine writing that I would encourage them to do. There are fewer and fewer book reviews, fewer and fewer periodicals, like I would say Dissent is one that they could still write for, the Nation. The Boston Review I love and I'm bored of that. Which are serious journals of ideas. So, young people have few outlets, but I still want them to do that And I think philosophers are actually doing pretty well on communicating to the general public, because philosophers tend to be people who feel that call of moral duty So if we broaden the aperture there and we think about American Democracy, out in the public space and we think about what we've just been through over the last year, as a country, in this election cycle, the appearance of these extraordinarily deep divisions. Is there a way, do you think as a political theorist and philosopher, there is a way in which out in these broader public spaces those differences can be attenuated somehow and there's a away to have a conversation about the common good anymore, or are we... Well I am an optimist and I am an optimist partly because the two issues that have been most central to my work, and in various ways my political engagements That is, women's issues and gay rights have made enormous progress in my lifetime. After all, when I got to Harvard there was no tenured woman there ....except one who was in a chair reserved for a woman. Now it's still an up hill battle, and I encountered great sexism in parts of my career But I have to say that things are a lot better than they used to be, and there are so many women doing wonderful work all over the Academy. And with gay rights it's astonishing, like when I first wrote about gay rights I did it partly because the gays and lesbians that I knew were not out and they didn't dare to talk about this and they didn't to come and say, that this is the struggle we are having. But you know all of the sudden this tremendous progress...So I do think that the humanities, in two ways, have a tremendous role to play The first is civilized argument, in that classroom I described people knew that they couldn't just hurl epithets at each other. there was a certain structure, and we set it up quiet carefully and we did have to do things that went beyond the argument like you know, model ourselves as certain sorts of people, who like each other, who listen to each other. And I also made quite a point of my own religious affiliation, because I am quite a religious reformed Jew. And you know, if they were going to play the religion card, I wanted to say Well, what my religion says is that one of the most important things is to fight for justice for gays and lesbians. So, we had that kind of talk But, the most important part was that we believed in the structure of a rational argument. When people care about the structure of an argument then we want to find out well, What are you relying on, what are your premises? Now it may turn out that the two sides may share some of the same premises and that's interesting. And so we want to see where the differences kick in. And when you really get people analyzing an argument, they're not fighting they're actually curious, and they really want to find out, what is the structure of the other person's position? And then of course you want to find out are some of those premises are factually false or not, and so all the traditional things philosophers do looking for validity and soundness I think promote civic friendship. That sounds pretty pie in the sky, but I actually believe that. And then the other thing is just imagining, now I teach lots of courses that use literature and every two years we have a big law and literature conference in the law school that I put on. And that's because I think the imagination does help our understanding of each other. If you really engage with a work of literature that presents to you in great depth and detail, the life of a group that you have not come to grips with in your society, I mean let's just take August Wilson's play "Fences", which I just saw the wonderful film Okay so you come away from that, if you didn't think hard about race before, I think you do come away from that play changed because you're not just deeply moved by the people, but because you're drawn in and you're deeply moved by these people, you're thinking, What was it about America in the 40's and 50's that made him end up being a garbage man. What were his opportunities? What were his limits? Why couldn't he play baseball? And so all of those thoughts, and then this wonderful strong woman, what's happened with her? Why does she not have a degree that would prepare her for any kind of employment? Why is she really stuck being a housewife and a support structure? Where in fact she's in some ways the most stable person in that household. And eventually through religion she does get a community that she can participate in outside of the household So anyway you start thinking really hard about how we constructed the world for African Americans in the 1950's and of course that's what Wilson is doing by having a play for every decade, just trying to move the race story along through the decades so that we see, how far have things changed? And what has not changed? So I think the imagination can investigate in ways through the bonds that we form with the characters we care about It helps us move out of this purely oppositional mentality and see the world in a much richer and more variegated way. So much of your work is anchored in the deep knowledge you have of Greek and Roman antiquities and ancient philosophy and I was reading just a couple days ago the introduction to "Anger and Forgiveness" and that lovely summary that you put together of the Oresteia and the final act of the Oresteia, the Eumenides. And, It just made me reflect on the power of these texts, still. And maybe more than ever, and I just wondered Do you have a notion of why these texts continue to resonate so powerfully another place where they have come up for us recently is in the work that we are doing with veterans. and a lot of the, sort of the discussion and the reading group work that we have funded is built around the Classics sometimes Homer, sometimes other classical texts or ancient Greek and Roman texts. So, what is your sense of why those texts are still so powerful, I know they're very powerful for you. Well I went into graduate school to study Greek and Roman texts because they were already powerful for me. I wanted to be a professional actress at one point before I went to graduate school. But it was because of the emotional power of acting in Greek tragedies, just thinking about these plays that I thought "Oh, This is what I want to write about". And I think what I have focused on my whole career, really, is the question of people searching for a flourishing life, and what are the different catastrophes that can get in their way? What are the ways in which we are vulnerable, and as human beings we ought to be vulnerable because we shouldn't try to say that we could be self sufficient or do everything that's necessary for a good life all on our own, but we need other poeple we need political engagement, and so what the Greek tragedies, and I think comedies too, what they do is to show you this like road map of all the ways that trying to live this rich, full life can go wrong. You could get into a war, you could find that you have members of your family on the wrong side of some political crises you could be raped, you could find that your child has gone crazy because of some horrible experience she's had So all of these things, one after another, and they are a road map, I think, of among other things of women's lives. In fact next year we are doing our literature conference on war, and law and literature And my whole faculty troop of actors is going to put on the Trojan Women because the Trojan Women is a road map of women's lives and it's still as absolutely vital today, I don't think there's any playwright who has ever shown the horrible trauma of rape in the way that Euripides does Now, how did that happen? Well Euripides is unique here I think because he had this keen interest in women and people would joke that he must have sneaked into the women's festival in drag, Aristophanes represents him doing that. But anyway, he gets it about what rape does to the spirit, what slavery does, and also what amazing powers of resistance are in the spirit of these women who are determined that, as long as they can speak, and name their oppression and protest it, then their life still has meaning and dignity. So we are going to do that play, and my male colleagues are a little disgruntled because there are not as many roles for them as there were in the Oresteia which we also did but that's okay and so we are planning to do that I think it's not as though there aren't many, many artworks in many other cultures. But I think it was something about the civic nature of the Greek theater that all the citizens stopped working, they came into these theaters, it wasn't like a Broadway theater where you sat in the dark and you expected to be passive, and to be passively entertained, but you are in this theater, amphitheater in bright sunlight, looking at your fellow citizens, recognizing their faces and thinking with them about the future of your city. And Aristophanes dramatizes this where he imagines the frogs, the god Dionysus wanting to get someone to give good advice to the city because hard times are there and he goes down to Hades, because all the tragic poets are dead and he has to choose one of the tragic poets because the idea is that they are the ones who think through the problems that the city is facing. Now, I think very few cultures have had institutionalized theater this is civic in that way Right We certainly do not, I do love the musical Hamilton, and I really think that does a lot of the things that Greek theater did by bringing a myth of the city, I mean it is like our founding myth that they are bringing in and Miranda dramatizes it in ways that I think bear comparison with what Sophocles and Euripides did because they update it and make it more modern. You know, so Euripides imagines Orestes going to plead his cause before the Athenian assembly and the Orestes. And so too Miranda has actors who are Latino and African American playing Jefferson and Hamilton, and so it's like a retelling of our founding myth. And it is fantastic, and it is brilliantly intelligent I'm sure I will mention it in the Jefferson Lecture because I am thinking a lot about the depiction of envy, and the difference between Hamilton and Burr, and so anyway, I think that's the only example I can think of of a truly civic piece of theater but you know he did that in spite of the structure of Broadway because Broadway, still stops people from seeing it. You have to pay so much to see it even in Chicago. So, in the Greek theater you didn't have to pay anything, you actually had to go and you just sat there all day. So I do feel like our theater has become profoundly corrupt and dominated by money and the only way out of that is through revival of repertory companies, and we do, in Chicago we are lucky to be a theater city that has a lot of repertory, a lot of storefront theater and the media cover it and make it available to people We have this Chicago Shakespeare Company which really is very civic civic-minded, and is doing more and more to do things for the City So, we have some advantages, but I do feel like a rethink of theater in this country is needed. Your argument in "Anger and Forgiveness" is about the civic transcendence of anger, the transformation of anger into something else I think what you are saying, or maybe I am not hearing you correctly, does are these modern forms of communication somehow fueling anger and making anger less likely to be transformed? I think they are because the thing that I find so bad about anger is this wish for payback, and when people just think "Oh, I am hurting so I will just make somebody pay" That's usually just futile, it gives you the illusion of control, but you haven't done anything constructive about the situation. So, it's very human to think that way, your relative has died in the hospital and the first thought I think a lot of people have is My mother has died, I will sue the doctor because you feel helpless and you think "well, I am less helpless if I am doing something active that makes someone else pay" and social media makes that really easy because you can inflict all kinds of pain on these people, out there, just by your venting. And yet, and the thing is, what good does that do? Now Martin Luther King Jr., one of my great heroes, and hero in the Anger Book knew that the job was to take people's anger which was usually grounded in some real wrong that they had suffered, and turn it around so that it faced the future with an idea of constructive work and hope. And that usually also involved a kind of reconciliation and partnership because how are you doing to build anything if you are just trying to make the other people pay? And so if you study his speeches there's a very detailed kind of emotion map where he picks up where people are, their legitimate anger, and then slowly, very cleverly, he calms them down by first getting them to think "Well its really like a bad check, so the question is how can we get paid?" it's not how can we put the other person in torment, because the person who is tormented is probably not going to pay your debt and so then we move forward, and we think about images of hope. And the beautiful images that the "I Have a Dream" speech are full of come, of course from one side of the biblical text. They are the prophetic dreams of brotherhood and reconciliation He steers clear of the Book of Revelations, which tells you, 'your enemies are going to pay' right, that's the angry part Yeah, the angry part. And so the thing is he could do that because he was a brilliant writer and a brilliant orator and he had a mass audience You've written several books and a number of articles on women, gender equality, the obstacles that women face with respect to achieving gender equality and it's clearly a hugely important topic in your work. You mentioned a little bit earlier that there had been substantial progress towards gender equality true equality. But I am sure, I know that you also believe that there continue to be obstacles, what are the fundamental obstacles that we still have to overcome? Yeah, of course I think often comparatively, what is it that makes the women, the progress of women, well real all over the world so sticky in a way that I think gay rights has not been so sticky. I mean, you know, twenty years and all of the sudden everything has changed for gays and lesbians. We still have a lot of work to do, but there still is so much progress that has been achieved. I think the problem, the obstacle for women is that their lives are intertwined with the lives of men in so many ways that change, at the very deepest level of one's daily life and one's being is required if women are to be really equal. So, you know, you have got to think about your sex life, you have to not think that because somebody's drunk you can just go right ahead. You just, people used to think that way. and great sociologist Ed Laumenn said that there was a huge gender gap in the perception of what force is and what violence is and men just thought well, paid for the date, everyone's drunk, I'll just go ahead and they also thought that "no" means "yes" and so that has not really changed. There is still a gap in perceptions. Women feel much freer than they did, but still, when alcohol is involved, especially, there is still a lot of sexual assault and there is a lot of confusion about that. So that's one thing that we need to focus a lot more on what "consent" is. And on the importance of affirmative consent. And I think that needs to happen, not just in universities where we are making progress But you know in the sports world where again, there is more attention to that than there used to be. But we still see that celebrities, actors, and sports stars like that Stanford Rape Case that you probably know, famous, you know, undergraduate star, in whom a lot of money has been invested because of course, athletes are not so easily replaceable, people have invested a lot of money in them. They are allowed to get away with stuff that ordinary people no longer get away with. So we have the stop the idea that celebrity and sports stardom give you a free pass on sexual violence But then I think even more sticky, really is just daily division of labor. I mean I look at my law students, and they are going to go into a law firm which really gives them very dire choices. The Academy is great there's a lot of gender equality in the Academy and the way that household labor is arranged and the way that childcare is arranged. And you know, my colleagues in the law world now take care of their children they really do in the Academy. But in the law firms the demand for twenty hour days is such that, alright, you have to postpone having children or you have to go onto that 'second-rate mommy track' because the men are not helping you do it and the work world is not helping you do it. So we have to work on many fronts, I think. On just changing mens' expectations as they grow up of what they are going to do as far as domestic work, childcare, but also elder care because there's more and more of that and that's less pleasant than childcare, it's hard. And men don't want to do it, they think, Oh women will do that out of love. They're good at that and so on. And so we have to change the work world, I would like to be able to change the way law firms deal with young professionals I am not empowered to do that. But I think there are a lot of people who are fighting on this front, and just as in the previous generation now the law firms have woken up to racial equality, at least they are trying, I think they are genuinely trying. They have to really get it about gender equality, that it means not forcing everyone to work twenty hour days during their prime childbearing years. And that's, you know, the men need also have that freedom to help out when the children are born and I see young people who want equality and they are forced by the very structure of the jobs they have to say "Oh well, sorry. You better take a few years off." and that's terrible, and the woman's career is put second. And finally, you know, what we really have to think about is aging, because women are living longer than men, more of the needy people who need care are women A lot of those women are living alone with no one to care for them, or else they are shunted into institutions I would like to see a sensible aging policy more like what the Nordic countries have, but they are cutting back. So, it's fragile there but where you can have in-home nursing care, you do not have to rely on your children, for example. I don't want to be a burden on my daughter I don't think my daughter wants to take care of me, but I don't want her to take care of me. And, so I think we need government to play a part in having a health policy that makes nursing care available for the increasing numbers of us who are going to, at some point need it. Martha, thank you again for this wonderful conversation. And thank you again for accepting our invitation to be the Jefferson Lecturer in 2017. We can't wait to hear you. Thanks so much Bro, I really enjoyed this conversation. And I look forward very much to first writing, and then giving the lecture.


History of the Jefferson Lecture

The Jefferson Lecturer is selected each year by the National Council on the Humanities, the 26-member citizen advisory board of the NEH. The honoree delivers a lecture in Washington, D.C., generally in conjunction with the spring meeting of the Council, and receives an honorarium of $10,000. The stated purpose of the honor is to recognize "an individual who has made significant scholarly contributions in the humanities and who has the ability to communicate the knowledge and wisdom of the humanities in a broadly appealing way."[1]

The first Jefferson Lecturer, in 1972, was Lionel Trilling. He spoke on "Mind in the Modern World." Among other things, Trilling suggested that humanism had become the basis for social improvement, rather than science and the scientific method as has been predicted by Thomas Jefferson, the Lectures' namesake.[2] Ten years later, Gerald Holton, the first scientist invited to deliver the lecture, drew attention for responding to Trilling, proposing that Jefferson's vision of science as a force for social improvement was still viable, opining that there had been a "relocation of the center of gravity" of scientific inquiry toward solving society's important problems,[2] and cautioning that science education had to be improved dramatically or only a small "technological elite" would be equipped to take part in self-government.[3]

The selection of the 2000 Jefferson Lecturer led to a spate of controversy. The initial selection was President Bill Clinton. William R. Ferris, chairman of the NEH, said that his intent was to establish a new tradition for every President to deliver a Jefferson Lecture during his or her presidency, and that this was consistent with the NEH's broader effort to increase public awareness of the humanities. However, some scholars and political opponents objected that the choice of Clinton represented an inappropriate and unprecedented politicization of the NEH. The heads of the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Humanities Alliance expressed concerns about introducing political considerations into the selection, while William J. Bennett, a conservative Republican and former chairman of the NEH under President Ronald Reagan, charged that the proposal was an example of how Clinton had "corrupted all of those around him."[4] In the wake of the controversy, President Clinton declined the honor; a White House spokesperson said the President "didn't want the work of the National Endowment for the Humanities to be called into question."[5]

Ultimately the 2000 honor went to historian James M. McPherson, whose lecture turned out to be very popular. Subsequently, the NEH revised the criteria for the award to place more emphasis on speaking skills and public appeal.[6]

The next Jefferson Lecture, by playwright Arthur Miller, again led to attacks from conservatives[7] such as Jay Nordlinger, who called it "a disgrace,"[8] and George Will, who did not like the political content of Miller's lecture and argued that Miller was not legitimately a "scholar."[9]

Recent Jefferson Lecturers have included journalist/author Tom Wolfe;[10] Straussian conservative political philosopher Harvey Mansfield;[11] and novelist John Updike, who, in a nod to the NEH's Picturing America arts initiative, devoted his 2008 lecture to the subject of American art.[12][13] In his 2009 lecture, bioethicist and self-described "humanist" Leon Kass expressed his view that science has become separated from its humanistic origins, and the humanities have lost their connection to metaphysical and theological concerns.[14]

In 2013 the NEH went in a different direction, selecting film director Martin Scorsese. He was the first filmmaker chosen for the honor, and he spoke on "the evolution of his films, the art of storytelling, and the inspiration he draws from the humanities".[15] In 2014 the Jefferson Lecturer was author Walter Isaacson,[16] and the 2015 honoree was playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith.[17] As part of the NEH's celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in 2016, it selected documentarian Ken Burns to deliver the lecture.[18] The 2017 lecturer is University of Chicago philosophy and law professor Martha Nussbaum, who delivered her lecture, entitled "Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame", on May 1, 2017.[19]

Publications based on Jefferson Lectures

A number of the Jefferson Lectures have led to books, including Holton's The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens,[20] John Hope Franklin's Racial Equality in America,[21] Henry Louis Gates' The Trials of Phillis Wheatley[22] and Jaroslav Pelikan's The Vindication of Tradition.[23] Updike's 2008 lecture was included in his posthumous 2012 collection Always Looking.[24]

Bernard Lewis' 1990 lecture on "Western Civilization: A View from the East" was revised and reprinted in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "The Roots of Muslim Rage".[25] According to one source, Lewis' lecture (and the subsequent article) first introduced the term "Islamic fundamentalism" to North America.[26]

List of Jefferson Lecturers

The following table lists the Jefferson Lecturers and the titles of their lectures.[1]

Year Lecturer Lecture Title
1972 Lionel Trilling "Mind in the Modern World"
1973 Erik Erikson "Dimensions of a New Identity"
1974 Robert Penn Warren "Poetry and Democracy"
1975 Paul A. Freund "Liberty: The Great Disorder of Speech"
1976 John Hope Franklin "Racial Equality in America"
1977 Saul Bellow "The Writer and His Country Look Each Other Over"
1978 C. Vann Woodward "The European Vision of America"
1979 Edward Shils "Render Unto Caesar: Government, Society, and Universities in their Reciprocal Rights and Duties"
1980 Barbara Tuchman "Mankind's Better Moments"
1981 Gerald Holton "Where is Science Taking Us?"
1982 Emily Vermeule "Greeks and Barbarians: The Classical Experience in the Larger World"
1983 Jaroslav Pelikan "The Vindication of Tradition"
1984 Sidney Hook "Education in Defense of a Free Society"
1985 Cleanth Brooks "Literature and Technology"
1986 Leszek Kołakowski "The Idolatry of Politics"
1987 Forrest McDonald "The Intellectual World of the Founding Fathers"
1988 Robert Nisbet "The Present Age"
1989 Walker Percy "The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind"
1990 Bernard Lewis "Western Civilization: A View from the East"
1991 Gertrude Himmelfarb "Of Heroes, Villains and Valets"
1992 Bernard Knox "The Oldest Dead White European Males"
1993 Robert Conquest "History, Humanity and Truth"
1994 Gwendolyn Brooks "Family Pictures"
1995 Vincent Scully "The Architecture of Community"
1996 Toni Morrison "The Future of Time"
1997 Stephen Toulmin "A Dissenter's Story"
1998 Bernard Bailyn "To Begin the World Anew: Politics and the Creative Imagination"
1999 Caroline Walker Bynum "Shape and History: Metamorphosis in the Western Tradition"
2000 James M. McPherson "'For a Vast Future Also': Lincoln and the Millennium"
2001 Arthur Miller "On Politics and the Art of Acting"
2002 Henry Louis Gates, Jr. "Mr. Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley"
2003 David McCullough "The Course of Human Events"
2004 Helen Vendler "The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar"
2005 Donald Kagan "In Defense of History"
2006 Tom Wolfe "The Human Beast"
2007 Harvey Mansfield "How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science"
2008 John Updike "The Clarity of Things: What Is American about American Art"
2009 Leon Kass "'Looking for an Honest Man': Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist."
2010 Jonathan Spence "When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century"
2011 Drew Gilpin Faust "Telling War Stories: Reflections of a Civil War Historian"[27][28]
2012 Wendell Berry "It All Turns on Affection" [29][30]
2013 Martin Scorsese "Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema"[31]
2014 Walter Isaacson "The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences"[16]
2015 Anna Deavere Smith "On the Road: A Search for American Character"[17]
2016 Ken Burns Race in America (subject; no title announced)[18]
2017 Martha Nussbaum "Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame."[19]
2018 Rita Charon "To See the Suffering: The Humanities Have What Medicine Needs"[32]


  1. ^ a b c Jefferson Lecture at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  2. ^ a b Alvin Krebs and Robert McG. Thomas, "Notes on People; Jeffersonian Theory Gets New Lease on Life," New York Times, May 12, 1981.
  3. ^ "Holton, in Jefferson Lecture, Criticizes Science Education," Harvard Crimson, May 15, 1981.
  4. ^ Irvin Molotsky, "Choice of Clinton to Give Humanities Lecture Meets Resistance,"  New York Times, September 21, 1999.
  5. ^ "National News Briefs; Clinton Declines Offer To Give Scholarly Talk," New York Times, September 22, 1999.
  6. ^ Ron Southwick, "NEH Wants Jefferson Lectures to Have More Public Appeal," Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 2000.
  7. ^ Bruce Craig, "Arthur Miller's Jefferson Lecture Stirs Controversy," in "Capital Commentary" Archived 2008-11-22 at the Wayback Machine., OAH Newsletter [published by Organization of American Historians], May 2001.
  8. ^ Jay Nordlinger, "Back to Plessy, Easter with Fidel, Miller’s new tale, &c." National Review, April 22, 2002.
  9. ^ George Will, "Enduring Arthur Miller: Oh, the Humanities!" Jewish World Review, April 10, 2001.
  10. ^ David Epstein, "A Speech in Full," Inside Higher Ed, May 11, 2006.
  11. ^ Philip Kennicott, "A Strauss Primer, With Glossy Mansfield Finish," Washington Post, May 9, 2007.
  12. ^ Jennifer Howard, "In Jefferson Lecture, Updike Says American Art Is Known by Its Insecurity," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2008.
  13. ^ Jay Tolson,"John Updike on American Art," U.S. News & World Report, May 23, 2008.
  14. ^ Serena Golden, "Tough Love for the Humanities", Inside Higher Ed, May 22, 2009 (retrieved May 22, 2009).
  15. ^ Dave Itzkoff, "He’s Talking to You: Scorsese to Give Jefferson Lecture for National Endowment for the Humanities", The New York Times, February 19, 2013.
  16. ^ a b Chris Waddington, "Best-selling biographer Walter Isaacson will deliver prestigious Jefferson Lecture in 2014", Times-Picayune, January 28, 2014.
  17. ^ a b Jennifer Schuessler, "Anna Deavere Smith to Deliver Jefferson Lecture", The New York Times, February 19, 2015.
  18. ^ a b Lorne Manly, "Ken Burns to Discuss Race in Jefferson Lecture", The New York Times, January 18, 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Martha Nussbaum Named Jefferson Lecturer", Inside Higher Ed, January 19, 2017.
  20. ^ Gerald Holton, The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens: The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press 1986), ISBN 0-521-27243-2.
  21. ^ John Hope Franklin, Racial Equality in America (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993), ISBN 0-8262-0912-2 .
  22. ^ Henry Louis Gates, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (Basic Civitas Books, 2003), ISBN 0-465-02729-6
  23. ^ Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), ISBN 0-300-03638-8.
  24. ^ Carl Dixon, "A critic keeping it surreal", Irish Examiner, January 11, 2013.
  25. ^ Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990.
  26. ^ Amber Haque, "Islamophobia in North America: Confronting the Menace," in Barry van Driel, ed., Confronting Islamophobia in Educational Practice (Trentham Books, 2004), ISBN 1-85856-340-2, p.6, excerpt available online at Google Books.
  27. ^ "Drew Gilpin Faust named 40th Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities", National Endowment for the Humanities, March 21, 2011.
  28. ^ Jacqueline Trescott, "Drew Gilpin Faust, the prize-winning historian and Harvard president, will deliver annual Jefferson Lecture", Washington Post, March 21, 2011.
  29. ^ "2012 Jefferson Lecture with Wendell Berry",, April 25, 2012.
  30. ^ Christopher Orlet, "The Affections of Wendell Berry", The American Spectator, May 3, 2012.
  31. ^ "Scorsese Talks 'The Language Of Cinema'", NPR, May 7, 2013.
  32. ^ "Dr. Rita Charon Named the 2018 Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2018-10-16.

External links

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