Historian Jonathan Spence Named 2010 Jefferson Lecturer

Jonathan Spence, one of the world’s leading experts on Chinese history and culture, will deliver the 2010 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. The annual lecture, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

“Jonathan Spence’s scholarship has shaped the field of Chinese history,” said NEH Chairman Jim Leach. “In a world in which mutual understanding has never been more important, Spence has helped Americans understand the culture of one of the world’s oldest and greatest civilizations.”

Spence will present the 39th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on Thursday, May 20, 2010, at 7 p.m. at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C.

In the lecture, “When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century,” Spence will explore the many ways that one of the first Chinese travelers to reach Europe shared his ideas with the Westerners he met. Though the contacts were brief, they showed the possibilities for a real meeting of the minds between the two dramatically different cultures, and help us chart the value of the humanities in that distant era.

Spence joined the faculty at Yale as an assistant professor in 1966, becoming the George Burton Adams professor of history in 1976 and Sterling professor of history in 1993. He retired from full time teaching in 2008.

He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Guggenheim and Macarthur fellowships, as well as ten honorary degrees. In 2004, he served as the president of the American Historical Association.
The Jefferson Lecture is the Endowment’s most widely attended annual event. Past Jefferson Lecturers include John Updike, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Bernard Bailyn, Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller, James McPherson, Barbara Tuchman, and Robert Penn Warren. The lectureship carries a $10,000 honorarium.

Tickets to the lecture are free of charge and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Ticket requests must be submitted by May 3 via the online form. All other inquiries, as well as ticket requests for persons lacking online access, may be directed to (202) 606-8446.