Dr. Earl Lewis, founding director of the Center for Social Solutions and Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, will be awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Joe Biden during a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects.

Lewis will be the first U-M faculty member to receive this prestigious award. Lewis is an esteemed scholar in higher education, humanities scholarship, and the role of race in American history and has authored several books on these subjects. He is also president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where he worked to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

“As a historian of the African American experience, Earl Lewis has produced pathbreaking and insightful scholarship. In his current role at the Center for Social Solutions, he has demonstrated the intellectual and social utility of the humanities,” explained the center’s associate director and Edgar G. Epps Collegiate Professor, Alford Young Jr. “He has led various efforts that illustrate how the humanities can serve alongside the social and natural sciences to enrich understandings of societal problems and the pathways towards their solution.”

At the Center for Social Solutions, Lewis guides initiatives that address four core areas of social concern: diversity and race, slavery and its aftermath, water and security, and the dignity of labor in an automated world.

“Dr. Lewis is a distinguished scholar, an award-winning author, and an educational leader, as well as a longstanding mentor and dear friend,” notes U-M President Santa J. Ono. “As founding director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Social Solutions, he is leading the scholarship in justice and equity so necessary for us to advance as a prosperous democratic society. I could not imagine a better selection by the National Endowment for the Humanities and President Biden.”

As one of the country’s preeminent scholars and higher education leaders, Dr. Lewis has changed the way we as a college, university, and academy approach and study the humanities, and examine the role of race in the history of this country,” stated Anne Curzan, dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at U-M. “I am honored to be his colleague here at U-M.”

His impact reaches far beyond the center and is felt by many individuals in all corners of the university.

“Earl Lewis is a living testament to the transformative power of the humanities. His uncanny understanding of complex systems is equaled by the force of his moral conviction,” adds U-M Provost Laurie McCauley. “It is wonderful to see Earl’s legacy recognized and his work amplified by our nation’s highest office.”

As a beloved lecturer and mentor, Lewis has maintained his unwavering commitment to ensuring that the study of American history remains relevant and accessible to all.

“As a former, and in many ways current, student of Earl's, I'm not alone in claiming him as a major influence on my academic career,” reflects Angela Dillard, chair of the Department of History. “He has modeled what it means to be a committed scholar, an inspiring teacher, and an equity-minded administrator who believes in institutional transformation. He has exponentially expanded our sense of what's possible for the humanities to do and to become in our troubled world.”

Lewis described receiving the news of this award as a wonderful surprise and extremely humbling.

He went on to explain, “This award is a sign for others at the University of Michigan that, while many are talking about the crisis of the humanities, there is a place in American life where the humanities are both recognized and honored. And this is an honor that I carry for myself but also carry for all my colleagues here and at institutions across the nation that do work in the humanities.”

The award ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. EDT and will be available to view via livestream at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/.


This story was republished from the Center for Social Solutions.