Historians strike out in MacArthur awards





Each year we look forward to reporting on the historians and humanists who have been honored with one of the coveted MacArthur Awards ­ a $500,000 prize that each fellow receives courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This year, however, we are sorry to report that of the twenty-five named fellows (of which twelve are academics), not one is an historian.

Each year, the MacArthur Foundation awards an unrestricted fellowship to talented individuals who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication to their creative pursuits and marked capacity for self-direction.” The cash prize is given in the hope that recipients will pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.

This year’s winners include 25 individuals of which 15 are scientists, doctors, and astronomers. Of the remaining ten winners, there are two musicians; five writers, playwrights and journalists, and three artists/sculptors. When the history coalition contacted MacArthur Foundation to ask “where are the historians?” a spokespersons stated that “that there has not been a shift” in fellowship priorities or emphasis. According to the spokesperson, “over the 26-year trajectory, there have been many historians and there undoubtedly will be others in the future.”

The names of those people who nominate candidates for the fellowship remains a secret. According to the foundation website, each year over a hundred nominators are approached by the foundation to nominate the most creative people they know within their field and beyond. The nominations are then evaluated by a Selection Committee (the deepest kept secret list) composed of about a dozen leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, and for-profit and nonprofit communities. Recommendations are then made to the President and Board of Directors of the foundation. Typically, 20 to 30 fellows are named; to date over 700 individuals have received the award, including over 70 historians.


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