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Wm. Theodore de Bary CC’41, GSAS’53 Selected for a National Humanities Medal

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President Barack Obama CC’83 named Wm. Theodore de Bary CC’41, GSAS’53 as one of 10 2013 National Humanities Medalists. A scholar of East Asian studies, de Bary has spent his career at Columbia, teaching generations of Columbians and furthering knowledge of East Asian cultures.

Each year, National Humanities Medals are awarded to individuals and groups who have advanced America’s understanding of the humanities, especially in history, cultural studies, filmmaking, cultural commentary and historic preservation. De Bary was honored “for enlightening our view of the world,” and “foster[ing] a global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by all cultures, helping to bridge differences and build trust.” During the ceremony, held on July 28, President Obama spoke about the importance of the arts and humanities saying, “The arts and humanities aren’t there to be consumed and enjoyed whenever we have a free moment in our lives; we rely on them constantly. We need them. Like medicine, they help us live.”

De Bary, the John Mitchell Mason Professor Emeritus and Provost Emeritus, began developing Columbia’s program in East Asian studies in 1949 while a student in the Ph.D. program, recruiting translators for classic Chinese, Japanese and South Asian works in order to create a core reading list for students wishing to learn more about Asian cultures. After helping form the basis of the program, in 1960 de Bary became head of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Since then, he has held many prestigious positions at Columbia, including EVP for academic affairs, and has been recognized with numerous awards for his dedication to teaching and commitment to bettering Columbia, including the Lionel Trilling Book Award, the Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching and the Alexander Hamilton Award.

James J. Valentini, dean of Columbia College and VP for undergraduate education, has nothing but praise for de Bary’s work and dedication to Columbia: “Ted de Bary is a Columbia College institution. He first stepped into Hamilton Hall as an 18-year-old freshman from Leonia, New Jersey, studied CC with the future College Dean Harry J. Carman, who encouraged him to incorporate Asia in his studies, and began planning and directing core courses in Asian Humanities and Civilization as a graduate student. He still teaches in the Core today, at age 94. We are so proud of Ted’s accomplishments and congratulate him on this this great award.”

While announcing the awards President Obama said, “We not only congratulate you this aftenoon, we thank you,” highlighting the importance of the recipients' work and the impact their works have had on American culture.

Read more about Professor de Bary in Columbia College Today

(photo credit: Jocelyn Augustino, courtesy of National Endowment for the Humanities)