Jefferson Lecture in the
Humanities is an honorary lecture series
established in 1972 by the National Endowment for the Humanities
(NEH). According to the NEH, the Lecture is "the highest honor the
federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement
in the humanities."
1 History of the Jefferson Lecture
2 Publications based on Jefferson Lectures
3 List of Jefferson Lecturers
5 External links
History of the Jefferson Lecture
The Jefferson Lecturer is selected each year by the National Council
on the Humanities, the 26-member citizen advisory board of the NEH.
The honoree delivers a lecture in Washington, D.C., generally in
conjunction with the spring meeting of the Council, and receives an
honorarium of $10,000. The stated purpose of the honor is to recognize
"an individual who has made significant scholarly contributions in the
humanities and who has the ability to communicate the knowledge and
wisdom of the humanities in a broadly appealing way."
The first Jefferson Lecturer, in 1972, was Lionel Trilling. He spoke
on "Mind in the Modern World." Among other things, Trilling suggested
that humanism had become the basis for social improvement, rather than
science and the scientific method as has been predicted by Thomas
Jefferson, the Lectures' namesake. Ten years later, Gerald Holton,
the first scientist invited to deliver the lecture, drew attention for
responding to Trilling, proposing that Jefferson's vision of science
as a force for social improvement was still viable, opining that there
had been a "relocation of the center of gravity" of scientific inquiry
toward solving society's important problems, and cautioning that
science education had to be improved dramatically or only a small
"technological elite" would be equipped to take part in
The selection of the 2000 Jefferson Lecturer led to a spate of
controversy. The initial selection was President Bill Clinton. William
R. Ferris, chairman of the NEH, said that his intent was to establish
a new tradition for every President to deliver a Jefferson Lecture
during his or her presidency, and that this was consistent with the
NEH's broader effort to increase public awareness of the humanities.
However, some scholars and political opponents objected that the
choice of Clinton represented an inappropriate and unprecedented
politicization of the NEH. The heads of the American Council of
Learned Societies and the National
Humanities Alliance expressed
concerns about introducing political considerations into the
selection, while William J. Bennett, a conservative Republican and
former chairman of the NEH under President Ronald Reagan, charged that
the proposal was an example of how Clinton had "corrupted all of those
around him." In the wake of the controversy, President Clinton
declined the honor; a
White House spokesperson said the President
"didn't want the work of the National Endowment for the
be called into question."
Ultimately the 2000 honor went to historian James M. McPherson, whose
lecture turned out to be very popular. Subsequently, the NEH revised
the criteria for the award to place more emphasis on speaking skills
and public appeal.
The next Jefferson Lecture, by playwright Arthur Miller, again led to
attacks from conservatives such as Jay Nordlinger, who called it "a
disgrace," and George Will, who did not like the political content
of Miller's lecture and argued that Miller was not legitimately a
Recent Jefferson Lecturers have included journalist/author Tom
Straussian conservative political philosopher Harvey
Mansfield; and novelist John Updike, who, in a nod to the NEH's
Picturing America arts initiative, devoted his 2008 lecture to the
subject of American art. In his 2009 lecture, bioethicist and
Leon Kass expressed his view that science
has become separated from its humanistic origins, and the humanities
have lost their connection to metaphysical and theological
In 2013 the NEH went in a different direction, selecting film director
Martin Scorsese. He was the first filmmaker chosen for the honor, and
he spoke on "the evolution of his films, the art of storytelling, and
the inspiration he draws from the humanities". In 2014 the
Jefferson Lecturer was author Walter Isaacson, and the 2015
honoree was playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith. As part of
the NEH's celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in 2016, it selected
Ken Burns to deliver the lecture. The 2017 lecturer
University of Chicago
University of Chicago philosophy and law professor Martha Nussbaum,
who delivered her lecture, entitled "Powerlessness and the Politics of
Blame", on May 1, 2017.
Publications based on Jefferson Lectures
A number of the Jefferson Lectures have led to books, including
Holton's The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens, John Hope
Franklin's Racial Equality in America, Henry Louis Gates' The
Trials of Phillis Wheatley and Jaroslav Pelikan's The Vindication
of Tradition. Updike's 2008 lecture was included in his posthumous
2012 collection Always Looking.
Bernard Lewis' 1990 lecture on "Western Civilization: A View from the
East" was revised and reprinted in
The Atlantic Monthly
The Atlantic Monthly under the
title "The Roots of Muslim Rage". According to one source, Lewis'
lecture (and the subsequent article) first introduced the term
"Islamic fundamentalism" to North America.
List of Jefferson Lecturers
The following table lists the Jefferson Lecturers and the titles of
"Mind in the Modern World"
"Dimensions of a New Identity"
Robert Penn Warren
"Poetry and Democracy"
Paul A. Freund
"Liberty: The Great Disorder of Speech"
John Hope Franklin
"Racial Equality in America"
"The Writer and His Country Look Each Other Over"
C. Vann Woodward
"The European Vision of America"
"Render Unto Caesar: Government, Society, and Universities in their
Reciprocal Rights and Duties"
"Mankind's Better Moments"
"Where is Science Taking Us?"
"Greeks and Barbarians: The Classical Experience in the Larger World"
"The Vindication of Tradition"
"Education in Defense of a Free Society"
"Literature and Technology"
"The Idolatry of Politics"
"The Intellectual World of the Founding Fathers"
"The Present Age"
"The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind"
"Western Civilization: A View from the East"
"Of Heroes, Villains and Valets"
"The Oldest Dead White European Males"
"History, Humanity and Truth"
"The Architecture of Community"
"The Future of Time"
"A Dissenter's Story"
"To Begin the World Anew: Politics and the Creative Imagination"
Caroline Walker Bynum
"Shape and History: Metamorphosis in the Western Tradition"
James M. McPherson
"'For a Vast Future Also': Lincoln and the Millennium"
"On Politics and the Art of Acting"
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Mr. Jefferson and the Trials of Phillis Wheatley"
"The Course of Human Events"
"The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar"
"In Defense of History"
"The Human Beast"
"How to Understand Politics: What the
Humanities Can Say to Science"
"The Clarity of Things: What Is American about American Art"
"'Looking for an Honest Man': Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanist."
"When Minds Met: China and the West in the Seventeenth Century"
Drew Gilpin Faust
"Telling War Stories: Reflections of a Civil War Historian"
"It All Turns on Affection" 
"Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema"
"The Intersection of the
Humanities and the Sciences"
Anna Deavere Smith
"On the Road: A Search for American Character"
Race in America (subject; no title announced)
"Powerlessness and the Politics of Blame."
^ a b c
Jefferson Lecture at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
^ a b Alvin Krebs and Robert McG. Thomas, "Notes on People;
Jeffersonian Theory Gets New Lease on Life," New York Times, May 12,
^ "Holton, in Jefferson Lecture, Criticizes Science Education,"
Harvard Crimson, May 15, 1981.
^ Irvin Molotsky, "Choice of Clinton to Give
Humanities Lecture Meets
Resistance," New York Times, September 21, 1999.
^ "National News Briefs; Clinton Declines Offer To Give Scholarly
Talk," New York Times, September 22, 1999.
^ Ron Southwick, "NEH Wants Jefferson Lectures to Have More Public
Appeal," Chronicle of Higher Education, October 6, 2000.
^ Bruce Craig, "Arthur Miller's
Jefferson Lecture Stirs Controversy,"
in "Capital Commentary" Archived 2008-11-22 at the Wayback Machine.,
OAH Newsletter [published by Organization of American Historians], May
^ Jay Nordlinger, "Back to Plessy, Easter with Fidel, Miller’s new
tale, &c." National Review, April 22, 2002.
^ George Will, "Enduring Arthur Miller: Oh, the Humanities!" Jewish
World Review, April 10, 2001.
^ David Epstein, "A Speech in Full," Inside Higher Ed, May 11, 2006.
^ Philip Kennicott, "A Strauss Primer, With Glossy Mansfield Finish,"
Washington Post, May 9, 2007.
^ Jennifer Howard, "In Jefferson Lecture, Updike Says American Art Is
Known by Its Insecurity," Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2008.
^ Jay Tolson,"
John Updike on American Art," U.S. News & World
Report, May 23, 2008.
^ Serena Golden, "Tough Love for the Humanities", Inside Higher Ed,
May 22, 2009 (retrieved May 22, 2009).
^ Dave Itzkoff, "He’s Talking to You: Scorsese to Give Jefferson
Lecture for National Endowment for the Humanities", The New York
Times, February 19, 2013.
^ a b Chris Waddington, "Best-selling biographer
Walter Isaacson will
Jefferson Lecture in 2014", Times-Picayune,
January 28, 2014.
^ a b Jennifer Schuessler, "
Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith to Deliver Jefferson
Lecture", The New York Times, February 19, 2015.
^ a b Lorne Manly, "
Ken Burns to Discuss Race in Jefferson Lecture",
The New York Times, January 18, 2016.
^ a b "
Martha Nussbaum Named Jefferson Lecturer", Inside Higher Ed,
January 19, 2017.
^ Gerald Holton, The Advancement of Science, and Its Burdens: The
Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays (Cambridge, England: Cambridge
University Press 1986), ISBN 0-521-27243-2.
^ John Hope Franklin, Racial Equality in America (Columbia: University
of Missouri Press, 1993), ISBN 0-8262-0912-2 .
^ Henry Louis Gates, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America's First
Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (Basic Civitas
Books, 2003), ISBN 0-465-02729-6
^ Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson
Lecture in the Humanities, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986),
^ Carl Dixon, "A critic keeping it surreal", Irish Examiner, January
^ Bernard Lewis, "The Roots of Muslim Rage," The Atlantic Monthly,
^ Amber Haque, "Islamophobia in North America: Confronting the
Menace," in Barry van Driel, ed., Confronting Islamophobia in
Educational Practice (Trentham Books, 2004), ISBN 1-85856-340-2,
p.6, excerpt available online at Google Books.
Drew Gilpin Faust
Drew Gilpin Faust named 40th Jefferson Lecturer in the Humanities",
National Endowment for the Humanities, March 21, 2011.
^ Jacqueline Trescott, "Drew Gilpin Faust, the prize-winning historian
and Harvard president, will deliver annual Jefferson Lecture",
Washington Post, March 21, 2011.
Jefferson Lecture with Wendell Berry", NEH.gov, April 25,
^ Christopher Orlet, "The Affections of Wendell Berry", The American
Spectator, May 3, 2012.
^ "Scorsese Talks 'The Language Of Cinema'", NPR, May 7, 2013.
3rd President of the
United States (1801–1809)
2nd U.S. Vice President (1797–1801)
1st U.S. Secretary of State (1790–1793)
U.S. Minister to France (1785–1789)
Governor of Virginia
Governor of Virginia (1779–1781)
Second Continental Congress
Second Continental Congress (1775–1776)
the United States
A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774)
Olive Branch Petition
Olive Branch Petition (1775)
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (1775)
1776 Declaration of Independence
Committee of Five
"All men are created equal"
"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness"
"Consent of the governed"
1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
freedom of religion
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)
Inaugural Address (1801
Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves
Lewis and Clark Expedition
Corps of Discovery
Empire of Liberty
Red River Expedition
Embargo Act of 1807
Non-Intercourse Act of 1809
First Barbary War
Native American policy
Marbury v. Madison
West Point Military Academy
State of the Union Addresses (texts
Federal judicial appointments
Early life and career
Founder, University of Virginia
Land Ordinance of 1784
Northwest Ordinance 1787
First Party System
Plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measure
United States (1790)
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
A Manual of Parliamentary Practice (1801)
University of Virginia
Virginia State Capitol
White House Colonnades
Notes on the State of Virginia
Notes on the State of Virginia (1785)
1787 European journey memorandums
Indian removal letters
Jefferson Bible (1895)
Jefferson manuscript collection at the Massachusetts Historical
The Papers of Thomas Jefferson
Age of Enlightenment
American Philosophical Society
Member, Virginia Committee of Correspondence
Committee of the States
Founding Fathers of the United States
Jefferson and education
Jefferson and slavery
Jefferson and the Library of Congress
Compromise of 1790
Separation of church and state
The American Museum magazine
United States Presidential election 1796
Thomas Jefferson Building
Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service
Jefferson City, Missouri
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Thomas Jefferson University
Washington and Jefferson National Forests
U.S. postage stamps
Ben and Me (1953 short)
1776 (1969 musical
Jefferson in Paris
Jefferson in Paris (1995 film)
Thomas Jefferson (1997 film)
Liberty! (1997 documentary series)
Liberty's Kids (2002 animated series)
John Adams (2008 miniseries)
Jefferson's Garden (2015 play)
Hamilton (2015 musical)
Wine bottles controversy
Peter Jefferson (father)
Jane Randolph Jefferson
Jane Randolph Jefferson (mother)
Lucy Jefferson Lewis (sister)
Randolph Jefferson (brother)
Isham Randolph (grandfather)
William Randolph (great-grandfather)
Martha Jefferson (wife)
Martha Jefferson Randolph (daughter)
Mary Jefferson Eppes (daughter)
Harriet Hemings (daughter)
Madison Hemings (son)
Eston Hemings (son)
Thomas J. Randolph (grandson)
Francis Eppes (grandson)
George W. Randolph
George W. Randolph (grandson)
John Wayles Jefferson
John Wayles Jefferson (grandson)
Thomas Mann Randolph Jr.
Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. (son-in-law)
John Wayles Eppes (son-in-law)
John Wayles (father-in-law)
Dabney Carr (brother-in-law)
Dabney Carr (nephew)
← John Adams
James Madison →