Hanna Holborn Gray: An Academic Life

MON, MAY 14, 2018 (54:05)

Hanna Holborn Gray, the first woman president of a major American University, discusses her debut memoir, An Academic Life with historian, author, and Harvard professor Jane Kamensky.

An Academic Life is a candid self-portrait by one of academia's most respected trailblazers. Gray describes what it was like to grow up as a child of refugee parents, and reflects on the changing status of women in the academic world. She discusses the migration of intellectuals from Nazi-held Europe and the transformative role these exiles played in American higher education—and how the émigré experience in America transformed their own lives and work. She sheds light on the character of university communities, how they are structured and administered, and the balance they seek between tradition and innovation, teaching and research, and undergraduate and professional learning.

An Academic Life speaks to the fundamental issues of purpose, academic freedom, and governance that arise time and again in higher education, and that pose sharp challenges to the independence and scholarly integrity of each new generation.

+ BIO: Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray has lived her entire life in the world of higher education. The daughter of academics, she fled Hitler's Germany with her parents in the 1930s, emigrating to New Haven, where her father was a professor at Yale University. She has studied and taught at some of the world's most prestigious universities. She was the first woman to serve as provost of Yale. In 1978, she became the first woman president of a major research university when she was appointed to lead the University of Chicago, a position she held for fifteen years. In 1991, Gray was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to education.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

+ BIO: Jane Kamensky

Jane Kamensky is Professor of History at Harvard University and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is a historian of early America, the Atlantic world, and the age of revolutions, with particular interests in the histories of family, culture, and everyday life.

Born in Manhattan, Kamensky received her BA (1985) and PhD (1993) in History from Yale University. Before coming to Harvard, she taught for two decades at Brandeis University, where she won two awards for excellence in teaching, and chaired the Department of History. She has also served as Mary Ann Lippitt Professor of History at Brown University.

Kamensky’s books include A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W.W. Norton, 2016), winner of the New-York Historical Society’s Barbara and David Zalaznick Book Prize in American History and the Annibel Jenkins Biography Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and a finalist for PEN’s Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, the Marfield Prize for Arts Writing, and the George Washington Book Prize; The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse (Viking, 2008), also a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize; Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England (Oxford University Press, 1997); and the novel Blindspot (Random House, 2008), jointly written with Jill Lepore. With Edward G. Gray, she edited the Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution (Oxford UP, 2012).

Her research has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Charles Warren Center at Harvard, and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. A co-founder, with Jill Lepore, of the online journal Common-place, she has served on the editorial boards of the American Historical Review, the Journal of American History, and the Journal of the Early Republic; and as a Commissioner of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. She has been elected to the Council of the American Antiquarian Society, the Executive Board of the Organization of American Historians, the Advisory Board of the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic, and the Executive Board of the Society of American Historians, and was honored as a “Literary Light” by the Boston Public Library in 2017.

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