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Medals Honor Humanities

Harvard Affiliates Win National Humanities Medals

By Jared T. Lucky, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard affiliates took home three of the nine National Humanities Medals awarded for 2011, in a ceremony earlier this week at the White House.

Columbia professor Andrew H. Delbanco '73, who holds three Harvard degrees, University Professor Robert C. Darnton '60, and University Professor Amartya Sen received their medals for their contributions to the study of the humanities in the United States.

The medal winners were announced last Friday, and they received their awards personally from President Barack Obama on Monday.

“I was completely flabbergasted,” said Delbanco, who is currently the director of the American Studies program at Columbia University. “This really was an honor I was not expecting.”

Delbanco, who was named “America’s Best Social Critic” by Time Magazine in 2001, said he has tried to bring the humanities to a wider audience.

“I would like to think that the award has something to do with my efforts to make the humanities matter to young people and to the nation at large,” he said.

In a press release, the White House Office of the Press Secretary noted Delbanco’s “insight into the American character, past and present,” and cited his writings on American authors like Herman Melville and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Class of 1821.

A former assistant professor of English and American Literature and tutor in Dunster House, Delbanco credited some of his success to his mentors at Harvard, where he earned his undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees.

“In a way this award belongs partly to the great teachers I had at Harvard,” he said.

Darnton, a history professor and the university librarian, received his medal for “his determination to make knowledge accessible to everyone,” according to the White House press release. Darnton has co-led the national effort to launch the Digital Public Library of America—an online collection that might eventually include every volume ever printed and would be freely accessible to every American citizen.

According to the press release, Sen won his medal for “his insights into the causes of poverty, famine, and injustice.”

A native of India, Sen won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the economic causes of famine.

In 1990, he helped create the United Nations Human Development Index.

Past award recipients have included University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and comparative religion professor Diana L. Eck.

—Staff writer Jared T. Lucky can be reached at

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