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Yale alumnae and professor win medals for arts, humanities

Two Yale alumni and an emeritus professor are receiving the nation’s highest honors for arts and humanities at the White House this afternoon.

President Barack Obama will present the National Medal for the Arts to Billie Tsien ’71 and her husband, Tod Williams—partners in architecture and in life—for “their deliberate and inspired designs,” which “have a profound effect on the lives of those who interact with them.” The couple’s “teaching and spirit of service have inspired young people to pursue their passions,” the citation says.

Tsien and Williams will join the Yale School of Architecture faculty this fall through the Davenport Visiting Professorship of Architectural Design.

Radio host and author Krista Tippett ’94MDiv and David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor Emeritus of American History, will each receive National Humanities Medals.

Tippett is creator and host of the public radio show On Being (formerly Speaking of Faith). “Thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence,” Tippett “avoids easy answers,” her citation says—“embracing complexity and inviting people of all faiths, no faith, and every background to join the conversation.”

Davis is honored for no less than “reshaping our understanding of history.”

A historian of slavery, he “shed light on the contradiction of a free Nation built by forced labor,” the citation says. “His examinations of slavery and abolitionism drive us to keep making moral progress in our time.”

By the time he retired from the Yale faculty in 2001, Davis had become the founding director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. In a 2002 feature article about the center, Davis told the Yale Alumni Magazine that when he was earning his PhD at Harvard in the early 1950s, historians there “virtually ignored the subject” of slavery:

The reason, he explains, was that while the Union had won the Civil War, the country gradually came to accept—or at least not to challenge—the Southern version of history in the years after Reconstruction. “The terrible price of reconciliation and reunion was marginalizing slavery and race,” he says.

One of Davis’s former students, Edward Ayers ’80PhD, was honored with the humanities medal last year.

A full list of this year’s honorees is here. The White House ceremony was scheduled to be live-streamed at 3 pm.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under architecture, history, religion, David Brion Davis, Krista Tippett, Billie Tsien
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