These history books are brought to you with the help of Uncle SamHistorians in the News
If we think about them at all, most of us probably imagine that biographers and historians happily toil away in sanctified destitution, untroubled by the cares of this world. But it turns out that many biographers and historians need to eat — and pay rent and buy clothes for their children. Such earthly demands push most scholars into academic jobs at colleges and universities, where they’re rewarded for producing arcane work that remains cloistered in the hallowed halls of academe.
The National Endowment for the Humanities is determined to break down those walls. Since 2015, the NEH has been funding the Public Scholar program, an annual series of grants designed to promote the publication of scholarly nonfiction books for a general audience.
This year’s roster of 22 grant winners, announced Wednesday, includes a cultural history of allergies, a biography of Boston art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, a history of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and 19 more books you may be reading a few years from now.
T.J. Stiles, one of the $60,000 grant winners, says support from the NEH will make it possible for him to write a one-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Despite having won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, Stiles notes that working as a historical biographer without a job at a university is freeing but financially stressful. “Currently, my royalties don’t even pay my family’s health insurance premiums for the year,” he says. The advance he’s received from his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, does not cover all his research and living expenses. “I had hoped that my career would be more self-sustaining by now, but life is full of unexpected twists and setbacks.”
For other Public Scholar grant winners, support from the NEH represents not just money but time.
Carole Emberton, a professor of history at the University at Buffalo, is writing a biography of the emancipated slave Priscilla Joyner. “While I love teaching,” she says, “the NEH grant will effectively buy me out of my teaching and service obligations for 12 months, allowing me to focus all my energies and time on the book.” ...
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