Skip to main content

Newsroom

President Obama Awards 2009 National Humanities Medals

Nobel Peace Prize laureate, three Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, and speechwriter for JFK are among this year’s recipients.

[Watch the White House video of the 2009 National Humanities Medals event on Feb. 25.]

WASHINGTON (February 25, 2010)—President Barack Obama presented the 2009 National Humanities Medals to eight Americans for their outstanding achievements in history, literature, cultural philanthropy, and museum leadership. Medals were given to historians Robert A. Caro, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Levering Lewis, and William H. McNeill; museum director Philippe de Montebello; philanthropist Albert H. Small; author Theodore C. Sorensen; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

The official citations honoring the medalists are:

  • Robert A. Caro for capturing the subtle machinations of political influence in America. His biographies of Robert Moses and President Lyndon Johnson have shown us how individuals accumulate and exercise power in local and national settings. (Read profile.)
  • Annette Gordon-Reed for her important and innovative research on Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and the life of Sally Hemings, and for bringing to light a previously unrecognized chapter in the American story. (Read profile.)
  • David Levering Lewis for his insightful examinations of W. E. B. Du Bois, the Dreyfus Affair, and early Islamic-Christians relations in Europe, which have enriched our understanding of the figures and forces that shaped world history. (Read profile.)
  • William H. McNeill for his pedagogy at the University of Chicago and as an author of more than twenty books, including The Rise of the West, which traces civilizations through 5,000 years of recorded history. (Read profile.)
  • Philippe de Montebello for his vision in bringing great art to an international public and his leadership in revitalizing the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and for fostering arts appreciation among people of all ages. (Read profile.)
  • Albert H. Small for his devotion to sharing early American manuscripts with our Nation’s cultural and educational institutions, as a philanthropist and collector. His generosity has helped educate countless Americans about those who founded our country. (Read profile.)
  • Theodore C. Sorensen for advancing our understanding of modern American politics. As a speechwriter and adviser to President Kennedy, he helped craft messages and policies, and later gave us a window into the people and events that made history. (Read profile.)
  • Elie Wiesel for his unwavering commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its victims. He has fostered compassion and understanding through his writing, his leadership, and his relentless advocacy for human rights. (Read profile.)

Three of the medalists—Robert A. Caro, Annette Gordon-Reed, and David Levering Lewis—have also received the Pulitzer Prize for their work. Elie Wiesel received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

The medals, first awarded as the Charles Frankel Prize in 1989, were presented during a ceremony in the East Wing of the White House. After the ceremony, the medalists and their families and friends joined the President and First Lady Michelle Obama for a reception in their honor.

Since 1996, when the first National Humanities Medal was given, 115 individuals have been honored, inclusive of this year’s awardees. Nine organizations also received medals. Previous medalists include Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, novelist John Updike, sociologist Robert Coles, and filmmaker Steven Spielberg. A complete list of previous honorees is available at: www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals.

###

About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Office of Communications at (202) 606-8446 or info@neh.gov