As humanistic study becomes hyper-professionalized and increasingly less popular on college campuses across the country, a troubling question has emerged: is there a crisis in the humanities? While political, social, and economic fields orient themselves around metrics, forecasts, and other forms of quantification, how can the humanities reclaim the place they once occupied in civic life? Must the contours of the humanities be redefined altogether?
Hanna Gray, former University of Chicago president, and Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will address these questions and others at the next “Conversations at the Newberry,” a series of discussions generating thought-provoking discourse about enduring issues and their stakes today.
One could say that Hanna Gray was destined to become a champion of the humanities. Her father, Hajo Holborn, was a prominent professor of European history, teaching at Yale for 35 years after emigrating from Germany; her mother, Annemarie Bettmann, held a PhD in classical philology. Gray received her PhD from Harvard, where she taught for three years before moving to Chicago upon her husband’s appointment to the University of Chicago faculty. She spent her first year in Chicago as a Newberry fellow. Establishing herself as a scholar and administrator was only a matter of time.
Joining the history faculty at the University of Chicago in 1961, Gray was offered tenure just three years later, in 1964. As a tenured faculty member of one of the most elite schools in the country, Gray taught graduate and undergraduate classes on Renaissance and Reformation Europe, while helping to redesign the university’s history requirements. Gray began to evince an affinity for administration; in 1978 she was appointed president of the university. Throughout a 15-year tenure as president, Gray’s policies led to increased undergraduate enrollment, new student housing, and curriculum revision to strengthen the two-year core class sequence required of all students. Hanna Gray joined the Newberry’s Board of Trustees in 2007.
Jim Leach is the ninth chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a post that reflects his background in both politics and academia. Before joining the NEH, Leach was a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and interim director of the Institute of Politics and lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Prior to entering academia, Leach spent 30 years serving as representative in Congress, where he chaired the Banking and Financial Services Committee, the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
A graduate of Princeton University, the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins, and the London School of Economics, Leach also holds thirteen honorary degrees, has been honored with decorations from two foreign governments, and is the recipient of the Adlai Stevenson Award from the United Nations Association.
“Conversations at the Newberry” is sponsored by Sue and Melvin Gray.
This event is free and open to the public.