This just in

On Yale & Yale alumni.
Ico print Print | Ico email Email | Facebook | | RSS

Oh, the humanities: 2.5 Yalies
honored with NEH medals

Two and a half Yalies received National Humanities Medals on Wednesday for their contributions in history, higher education, social documentary and cultural criticism.

The two—Edward Ayers ’80PhD and Robert Putnam ’70PhD—are academics who earned their doctorates at Yale. The half is Robert Silvers ’51Law, who "enrolled in Yale Law School at age 18 [but] left Yale after a year and a half, disillusioned with the law."

Silvers did OK, though: he became a founding editor of the New York Review of Books, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and where one writer recalls "receiving a phone call from Silvers on Christmas Day to discuss a dangling modifier."

Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, was cited for "his commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible." A self-described "suburban hillbilly" from Tennessee, Ayers came to Yale for his graduate work and "suddenly had an ethnicity," he says: "I discovered I was a southerner.” At Yale, he studied southern history under the eminent scholars C. Vann Woodward and David Brion Davis. Co-host of a weekly radio show, BackStory, and developer of Visualizing Emancipation—a digital map of slavery's end in the American south—he tells an NEH interviewer that he sees "a radically democratic purpose behind all that I do. . . . When you see what the humanities have to offer, you want to share them as broadly as you can.”

Putnam, a Harvard professor, is "America’s preeminent political scientist," his NEH profile declares. Best-known for his 2000 book Bowling Alone—about the breakdown of unifying social forces, like bowling leagues, in American life—he told an interviewer: “Academics have a very cushy life, and the quid pro quo, as I understood when I got into this job, was that we have an obligation to try to bring at least some of our ideas, insights, and findings into a wider societal conversation.” His work "inspire[s] us to improve institutions that make society worth living in," the NEH citation says, "and his insights challenge us to be better citizens."

Silvers' profile calls him "a bringer of culture, a champion of literature, a uniquely talented matchmaker of books and reviewers, of subjects and writers, while the Review itself has come to be regarded as a standing argument against the idea that with every new technology American culture strays further from the primacy of the written word and anything that smacks of the intellectual and the individualistic."

Even if he didn't finish law school.

Filed under Robert Putnam, Ed Ayers, Robert Silvers, National Endowment for the Humanities
The comment period has expired.