Andrew Delbanco

Jefferson Lecture

2022

Andrew Delbanco, 2022 Jefferson Lecturer
Photo caption

Andrew Delbanco, 2022 Jefferson Lecturer 

Photo by Billy Delfs / National Endowment for the Humanities 

Andrew Delbanco, the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University, President of the Teagle Foundation, and 2011 National Humanities Medalist, will deliver the 2022 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.

NEH’s Jefferson Lecture is the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities. The Jefferson Lecture was established by NEH in 1972, and this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the honorary lecture series. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the lecture will return as a live in-person event. Delbanco will deliver his lecture, “The Question of Reparations: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future,” on October 19, 2022, at President Lincoln’s Cottage historic site and museum in Washington, D.C., at 6:30 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public and will stream online at neh.gov. In his remarks, Delbanco will address reparations for slavery in the United States, using history, philosophy, and literature to examine a wide range of perspectives on the debate.

“Steeped in the long history of American thought, Andrew Delbanco is one of the nation’s foremost cultural critics and public intellectuals,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “He has devoted his career to careful study of the development of America’s ideals and national identity. In his writing, teaching, and speaking, Delbanco holds a mirror to our society and shows us how our country’s collective past continues to shape our daily lives and values.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), an independent federal grantmaking agency, uses a formal review process that includes nominations from the general public to develop a list of possible awardees. The NEH Chair selects the lecturer with the advice of the National Council on the Humanities, a board of distinguished private citizens who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. NEH awards more than $200 million annually in grants that support understanding and appreciation of cultural topics, including art, ethics, history, languages, literature, law, music, philosophy, religion, and others. The Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities is the agency’s signature event. 

“I am deeply touched by this high honor,” said Delbanco, “which affords me an opportunity to bring the humanities to bear on a complex and demanding question that has long confronted our country. I have always believed that the study of the past must prove its value by helping us reflect on the challenges of the present and the future.”

A renowned scholar of American literary, religious, and cultural history, Delbanco has taught at Columbia University since 1985, where he teaches and writes on the history of American education, colonial and classic American literature, and American culture past and present.

Among his many accolades, Delbanco was named by Time magazine as “America’s Best Social Critic” in 2001 and is the recipient of a Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates. Additionally, President Barack Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal for his writings on higher education and the place classic authors hold in history and contemporary life.

Delbanco’s most recent book, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War (Penguin Press, 2018), was named a New York Times notable book and awarded the Lionel Trilling Award, the Mark Lynton History Prize, for a work “of history, on any subject, that best combines intellectual distinction with felicity of expression,” as well as the Anisfield-Wolf Award for “books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity.” His widely admired Melville: His World and Work (Knopf, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Timess Book Prize in Biography. Delbanco’s 1995 book, The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil, was researched and written with support from an NEH Fellowship.

His many other books, which include College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (2012); The Real American Dream (1999); Required Reading: Why Our American Classics Matter Now (1997); and The Puritan Ordeal (1989), take an expansive approach to chronicling the history of American thought, civic values, and spirituality. Delbanco’s essays on topics ranging from American literature to contemporary issues in higher education appear regularly in the New York Review of Books, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other periodicals.

As an ardent advocate for the importance of the humanities in higher education, Delbanco was, in 2018, appointed president of the Teagle Foundation, which works to support and strengthen liberal arts teaching and education. Under his leadership, the Teagle Foundation has partnered with NEH for the Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative, which seeks to revitalize the role of the humanities within the general education curriculum at America’s colleges and universities.

Delbanco earned his AB, MA, and PhD degrees from Harvard University and holds honorary degrees from Ursinus College, Occidental College, and Marlboro College. He was elected president of the Society of American Historians for 2021-2022 and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Delbanco has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies, and was a member of the inaugural class of fellows at the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He is a member of the board of directors of the Library of America and previously served on the boards of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Humanities Center, and PEN America.  

NEH’s Jefferson Lecture is the Endowment’s most widely attended public event. Past Jefferson Lecturers include Father Columba Stewart, Dr. Rita Charon, Martha C. Nussbaum, Ken Burns, Walter Isaacson, Wendell Berry, Drew Gilpin Faust, John Updike, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Toni Morrison, Barbara Tuchman, and Robert Penn Warren. The lectureship carries an honorarium, set by statute.

Tickets to the lecture are free of charge and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets will be available starting on September 14 at neh.gov.