President Barack Obama recently presented the 2009 National Humanities Medals to eight Americans for their outstanding achievements in history, literature, cultural philanthropy, and museum leadership. Medals were given to
historians Robert A. Caro, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Levering Lewis, and William H. McNeill; museum director Philippe de Montebello; philanthropist Albert H. Small; author Theodore C. Sorensen; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
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 four historians noted:
- Robert A. Caro for capturing the subtle machinations of political influence in America. His biographies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon Johnson have shown us how individuals accumulate and exercise power in local and national settings.
- Annette Gordon-Reed for her important and innovative research on Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and the life of Sally Hemings, and for bringing to light a previously unrecognized chapter in the American story.
- David Levering Lewis for his insightful examinations of W. E. B. Du Bois, the Dreyfus Affair, and early Islamic-Christians relations in Europe, which have enriched our understanding of the figures and forces that shaped world history.
- William H. McNeill for his pedagogy at the University of Chicago and as an author of more than twenty books, including The Rise of the West, which traces civilizations through 5,000 years of recorded history.
Three of the medalists—Robert A. Caro, Annette Gordon-Reed, and David Levering Lewis—have also received the Pulitzer Prize for their work. Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
The medals were first awarded as the Charles Frankel Prize in 1989. Since 1996, when the first National Humanities Medal was given, 115 individuals have been honored, inclusive of this year’s awardees. Nine organizations also received medals. To see a list of previous honorees click here.