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Princeton Scholar Gets Honorary Degree at Faculty Convocation

Anthony Grafton

Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton, told Georgetown faculty that humanities experts are presently dealing with “a hail of abuse” from critics.

October 7, 2011 – Georgetown presented Princeton University history professor Anthony Grafton an honorary degree at its Fall Faculty Convocation Oct. 6.

The scholar has been recognized with such awards as the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Balzan Prize for history of the humanities and a lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“The questions he engages … look to the narratives and the knowledge that define our past, and in doing so, provide each of us with an opportunity to look at our present and future in new and unexpected ways,” said Provost James J. O’Donnell, reading from the honorary degree citation.

Hail of Abuse

The Princeton scholar said humanities experts deal with “a hail of abuse” from critics in articles, newspapers and blogs, suggesting they “reduce great works of art and literature and music to either the historical contexts that produced them or some supposedly deep theoretical common denominator that explains them.”

Grafton says such arguments are “ill-informed,” as they all have a common denominator and aren’t based on research but rather reuse similar anecdotes and use an argumentative tone to get their point across.

“It’s a rich … indictment and it appears in many places from trade books produced by hostile critics of the academy from think tanks to the university itself [and] from blog posts and media.” said Grafton, who serves as the Henry Putnam University Professor of History at Princeton.

Recommitting to Values

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia’s address focused on the state of the academy.

“This is a time in which there are signs of real deterioration and significant new demands in our academic culture,” he said. “It is incumbent on us to assert our commitment to the values that have always guided our work at this university … and to recommit ourselves to the spirit that animates us, bound together in a shared love of this work.”

He also thanked the faculty for their work.

“Each of you – through your scholarship, your teaching and your service – has enriched our community and enabled us to further strengthen our commitment to the highest standards of academic excellence,” he said.

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