On the June day in 1980 when young historian Drew Gilpin Faust married fellow historian Charles Rosenberg, she received a congratulatory call from Vartan Gregorian, then provost at the University of Pennsylvania, where Faust was on faculty. Her tenure was approved, he told her, providing one more reason to celebrate a day already rich with new beginnings.
Faust, who is the current president of Harvard University, was just setting out on what was to become a celebrated career. In 1979, she received $16,000 from NEH to work on her first book, James Henry Hammond and the Old South: A Design for Mastery. On sabbatical from Penn, and with the bulk of the archival research completed, Faust used the grant to finish drafting her manuscript at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where Rosenberg had an appointment as a member for the academic year. “My ability to submit the chapters I was completing was an important factor in the positive decision [regarding tenure],” she recalls. James Henry Hammond and the Old South was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1982 and went on to win the Charles S. Syndor Award and the Jules F. Landry Award, each given for outstanding books in Southern history.
Since then, Faust has published five more books, including Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 1996), for which she won the Francis Parkman Prize in 1997. Her most recent book, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008) won the Bancroft Prize in 2009, was a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was named by the New York Times one of the “10 Best Books of 2008.” It was also the basis for the 2012 Emmy-nominated documentary Death and the Civil War, which was directed by Ric Burns and aired as part of PBS’s American Experience.
In 2007, Faust became the first woman president of Harvard University. She is also the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In 2011, she delivered “Telling War Stories: Reflections of a Civil War Historian” as NEH’s 40th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.
“What has always interested me most about history is trying to understand how people see their own world. And how they create the structures of meaning and understanding that serve as the lens through which they view what is around them and the events that confront them,” explained Faust in a 2011 interview with Humanities magazine. Throughout her career she has done just that—and she got a jump start with a small grant from NEH.
Image Credit: © Mark Morelli