Annette Gordon-Reed ’81, historian, Harvard Law School professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author, is a member of a new national commission charged with strengthening support of the humanities and the social sciences. (photo by Jerry Bauer)
Dartmouth Trustee Annette Gordon-Reed ’81 was recently named to a new national commission addressing the humanities and social sciences. Overseen by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the commission has been charged by Congress with identifying “the top 10 actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence” in the study and support of those fields. Led by Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead and John W. Rowe, chief executive officer of Exelon, the panel’s members include former Associate Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, filmmaker George Lucas, and several college presidents, including University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. Co-chairs Brodhead and Rowe said they plan to issue a report with the commission’s recommendations in 18 to 24 months.
“I hope the Commission will stimulate conversation about the importance of the liberal arts—not just in the academy, but among as many Americans as possible,” says Gordon-Reed, a Harvard Law School professor and a professor of history at Harvard College. “I hope that my colleagues and I will have some useful suggestions about how to build a sound approach to the liberal arts for the 21st Century.
“A good liberal arts education, I believe, gives students the tools they need to manage the complexity of life,” she continues. “If done well, it encourages creativity and critical thinking—skills that are sorely needed in almost every endeavor. There is a discipline to it, however. Creativity and critical thinking find their optimal expression when bolstered by wide-ranging knowledge. Exposure to literature, philosophy, history, the classics, the study of government—all these things build a foundation that allows talent to flourish.”
A history major at Dartmouth, Gordon-Reed is also the author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award. “The liberal arts have helped me see the world in broad terms,” says the Texas native, who was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2010. “My work draws upon many disciplines and fields. I’ve been open to that because I know there is no single way to solve a problem, and the problems I have wanted to solve have existed as part of the human condition from time immemorial. Literature, the arts, and history all make this truth abundantly clear. But I had to learn that by reading and studying.”