Professors Win NEH Medals

Two Harvard professors and one professor emeritus are among nine recipients of this year's National Humanities Medals.

Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies Diana L. Eck, DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. '38 will be honored by President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton in a White House ceremony Nov. 5.

The medalists are chosen by the President, following nominations by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH selects those who "get out of the Ivory Tower and reach large audiences," according to NEH spokesperson Jim Turner. Their activities can include developing educational programs or carrying out meaningful research, he said.

"This is a fantastically humbling honor," Gates said "It's very exciting to get this honor with my friend and colleague Diana Eck, and Arthur Schlesinger, who is one of my heroes."

Gates, a best-selling author and director of Harvard's W.E.B Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, "is one of the nation's leading black intellectuals," Turner said. One of his current projects is the completion of Encarta Africana, an encyclopedia of black culture and history that will be published in CD-ROM form in mid-January and in book form next September.


"This is the first complete encyclopedia about the entire black world," Gates said. "[For me to win a medal] says there's a growing acceptance of Afro-American studies."

Eck, who is co-master of Lowell House, is currently on a one-year leave as professor of comparative religion and Indian studies while she writes a book on religion in America. She is also creator and director of the Harvard-based Pluralism Project which studies religious diversity.

Like Gates, Eck has used a multimedia approach to reach audiences. The Pluralism project, which hired Harvard students as researchers, produced the CD-ROM On Common Ground: World Religions in America. It documents the "growing religious diversity across the United States" since 1965, when immigration quotas were significantly relaxed, Eck said. The CD-ROM is now in wide use at the collegiate and secondary school levels.

"The wonderful thing about multimedia is that there's people in it--people actually speaking [about their religion,] Muslims speaking about being Muslims, for example," she said. "Books don't necessarily have that."

Schlesinger, the third medal winner taught at Harvard for many years before leaving for City University of New York, where he is now Albert Schweitzer professor emeritus of the humanities. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he is currently working on his memoirs.

"I'm an activist," Schlesinger said. "I try to engage a larger audience. I've never believed that being a historian suspends public responsibilities."

This is the second year the NEH has awarded the medals, which replaced the Frankel Prize in the Humanities that was formerly awarded.