Grafton honored for contributions to the humanities

Award supports research on historical chronology

By Patricia Allen

Princeton NJ -- Anthony Grafton, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History and chair of the Council of the Humanities, has been selected as one of four scholars to receive the Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award. The award, given by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York, was established in 2001 to highlight the decisive contributions the humanities make to the nation's intellectual life.

Anthony Grafton

Anthony Grafton


The award recognizes both the scholars and their institutions. The foundation will provide up to $1.5 million over three years to the University to support Grafton's teaching and research. A scholar of Renaissance Europe and the history of science, Grafton has focused his major research on historical chronology in ancient and early modern Europe.

"The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has, from its inception, been dedicated to enabling first-rate scholars and institutions to cultivate and to advance humanistic learning and understanding," said William G. Bowen, the foundation's president and a former president of the University. "These awards are made in recognition of individuals who have excelled in that mission and whose work and influence continue to enrich the broader community of humanistic studies."

In a news release, foundation officials cited Grafton's wide-ranging research. "In numerous deeply learned studies on the classical tradition, the history of the book and of reading, the history of scholarship, and the history of science, Professor Grafton has enlarged our understanding of the many different ways in which Renaissance humanism sustained and transformed European cultural and intellectual life," they said.

"Through emphasizing the close links between science and the humanities in the pre-modern world, his writings and teaching have changed the way Renaissance scholars in a number of disciplines see their fields. It is notable, too, that Professor Grafton has combined his great intellectual distinction with an enthusiasm for communicating his contributions to humanistic scholarship to broad audiences without condescension," they added.

"This honor is so richly deserved. Tony epitomizes the very best qualities of the humanistic scholar and teacher," said Provost Amy Gutmann. "He is recognized by his peers worldwide for his insightful and indeed brilliant scholarship in the intellectual history of early modern Europe. At Princeton, he is also a cherished and gifted teacher who greatly contributes to the University's academic life."

Grafton describes his work as the investigation of how earlier scholars reconstructed dates and calendars in ancient and recent history and fixed their relationships to events, the development of modern science and human intellect.

"Historical chronology is considered one of the most complex subdisciplines in the field of history, and until recently has received little scholarly attention though younger scholars are beginning to study aspects of it more intensively," Grafton said.

Grafton has embarked on a large-scale, comprehensive project of reconstructing chronological scholarship of the 16th and 17th century. It will encompass classical, biblical, scientific and astronomical studies from the work of Newton, Spinoza, Descartes and other noted intellectuals of that period.

"This award has transformed my whole life," Grafton said. "The money will allow me to work on this immense project on chronology for several years. I knew I could start it, since I had a leave coming. But until now, I wasn't sure where this project was going to go from there."

Grafton said the award will enable him to devote more time to the project, which will include spending many hours in libraries and archives and creating a database of his research findings. He plans to invite young scholars, particularly researchers from Europe who have an interest in historical chronology, to spend time as postdoctoral fellows at Princeton.

Grafton joined the history faculty in 1975, after earning his A.B., A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. He teaches European Renaissance history, art history, the history of science and courtly culture in Renaissance Europe. He was named the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of History in 1988, the Dodge Professor of History in 1993 and the Henry Putnam University Professor of History in 2001. He became chair of the humanities council in 2002.

Grafton is the author of numerous articles for professional journals and books, including "Joseph Scaliger: A Study in the History of Classical Scholarship," "The Footnote: A Curious History" and "Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Work of a Renaissance Astrologer."

The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Europe's prestigious 2002 Balzan Prize for the humanities and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Grafton received the Behrman Prize for Achievement in the Humanities at Princeton in 1996. He has served as a visiting scholar at several institutions in Europe.

The three other Distinguished Achievement Award winners this year are: Roger Bagnall, professor of classics and history at Columbia University; Robert Brandom, Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh; and Christopher Ricks, the Warren Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

Three Princeton professors have won the Mellon award since its inception: Michael Cook, the Cleveland Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies; Peter Brown, the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History; and Alexander Nehamas, the Edmund Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in the Humanities and professor of philosophy and comparative literature.


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