March 1, 2004

Fox-Genovese honored for humanities medal

By Michael Terrazas

Two deans and a president hosted a gathering of Emory faculty and staff Feb. 20 to honor one of the University's most honored and distinguished professors. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eléonore Raoul Professor of Humanities and History, was awarded the National Humanities Medal last November by President George W. Bush, and the Feb. 20 event served as Emory's official congratulations.

President Jim Wagner, Emory College Dean Bobby Paul and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences interim Dean Bryan Noe hosted the lunchtime celebration, held in the Carlos Museum reception hall.

"I've noticed that Emory has a habit of taking hard looks at itself, of being self-critical, and that's great, but we also need to take time to celebrate," Wagner said in congratulating Fox-Genovese. "[By earning this award] you honor yourself, you honor Emory, and I believe you honor the other people who were there receiving the honor with you."

The National Humanities Medal, first awarded in 1989 as the Charles Frankel Prize, honors individuals "whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand America's access to important resources in the humanities."

Fox-Genovese, a faculty member since 1986 and founding director of the women's studies program, received her medal along with a class that included marine scientist Robert Ballard, actor Hal Holbrook, author John Updike and others. In the Nov. 14 ceremony, Bush was joined by first lady Laura Bush; Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney; and Bruce Cole, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which administers the medal program.

Skip to three months later and 800 miles southward, and Wagner was not the only one praising Fox-Genovese.

"All of us know Betsey, but I'm not sure we understand what she's won in the National Humanities Medal," said Walter Adamson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and chair of history. "It's not simply about recognizing outstanding scholarly and artistic achievement--it's about recognizing such achievement that also has had a profound impact on public life. The reach of her scholarship and service is both wide and deep."

"I'm overwhelmed," Fox-Genovese said when she took the podium. "It's wonderful to see so many friends here today. The medal itself was a pure act of grace; it wasn't even on my radar screen, and it still feels unreal."

Fox-Genovese commented that some of her favorite female novelists wrote about, and while within, the "family circle," the safe, nurturing environment of family and home.

"Emory has provided me with that kind of context," she said. "My students have been a special joy and a pleasure; through teaching, we as intellectuals stay alive. I'm grateful mainly to the people who bring this place alive to me and who are very much part of my life."