Early named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences commission

Gets appointment to Commission on Humanities and Social Sciences

Gerald L. Early, PhD, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and director of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, has been named to the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences established by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


The commission will aim to bolster teaching research in the humanities and social sciences. It will be chaired by Richard H. Brodhead, PhD, president of Duke University, and John Rowe, chair and CEO of Exelon Corp.

“As the director of a humanities center at a high-powered research university, I think it is my duty to be as strenuous an advocate for the humanities as I can be, both locally and nationally,” Early says.

The commission was formed in response to a bipartisan request from United States Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and David Price (D-N.C.).

Congress asked the academy to respond to the following charge:

  • What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, universities, foundations, educators, individual benefactors, and others should take now to maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship and education, and to achieve long-term national goals for our intellectual and economic well-being; for a stronger, more vibrant civil society; and for the success of cultural diplomacy in the 21st century?

The commission includes prominent Americans from the humanities, social sciences, physical and life sciences, business, law, philanthropy, arts and media. Notable members who will join Early include film director Ken Burns, musician Emmylou Harris, actor John Lithgow, producer and director George Lucas, and David Souter, former justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“The humanities and social sciences provide the intellectual framework for the nation’s economic, political, and governing institutions,” Brodhead says. “They enrich our lives and our understanding. Americans already appreciate the importance of math and science to our future; this commission will remind them of the long-term importance of the liberal arts as well.”

The commission will draw on past research efforts, data from its Humanities Indicators and the experience and expertise of a multidisciplinary group of national leaders to recommend specific, actionable steps to maintain the nation’s excellence in the humanities and the social sciences.

The commission will focus on education, research and the institutions critical to advancing the humanities and social sciences in the nation. Work is expected to be completed over the next 18-24 months.

Early, a professor of English, of African and African-American studies, and of American culture studies, all in Arts & Sciences, is a noted essayist and American culture critic. He is a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He is the author of several books, including The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature and Modern American Culture, which won the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s. Other works are One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture; Daughters: On Family and Fatherhood; and Tuxedo Junction: Essays on American Culture.

Early also is editor of numerous volumes, including The Muhammad Ali Reader and The Sammy Davis, Jr. Reader. He served as a consultant on four of Burns’ documentary films: Baseball, Jazz, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson and The War, and appeared in the first three as an on-air analyst.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current academy research focuses on science and technology policy, global security, social policy, the humanities and culture, and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., the academy’s work is advanced by its 4,300 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world.