The National Humanities Medals, presented by President Barack Obama at the White House Feb. 13, had a distinctively Princeton feel this year. Two alumni — musician and scholar Charles Rosen ’48 *51 and historian Teofilo Ruiz *74 — were among the nine recipients. The University’s faculty also was well represented, with professors Kwame Anthony Appiah (philosophy and the University Center for Human Values) and Robert Darnton (history, emeritus) receiving the honor.
The alumni honorees both took unconventional paths to their distinguished careers. Rosen, who studied French literature at Princeton, forged a remarkable reputation outside his academic field, following parallel tracks as a renowned classical pianist and a widely read author. He chronicled music history in essays and books, including The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, a 1972 National Book Award winner. Rosen’s humanities medal citation recognized “his rare ability to join artistry to the history of culture and ideas” and hailed his writings for highlighting “how music evolves and remains a vibrant, living art.”
Ruiz, a professor at UCLA, was born in Cuba and left his homeland in the early 1960s, eventually making his way to New York City. While working in a can factory by day, he pursued undergraduate studies at City College of New York. He earned his master’s in history at New York University and came to Princeton to pursue his Ph.D. An acclaimed historian of medieval and modern Spain, Ruiz also has earned high marks for his inspirational pedagogy. His award citation recognized the breadth of his work: “His erudite studies have deepened our understanding of medieval Spain and Europe, while his late examination of how society has coped with terror has taught important lessons about the dark side of western progress.”
While the National Humanities Medal recognizes a long record of achievement, it is by no means a valediction. Rosen continues to perform and write (he contributed a review to the current New York Review of Books), while Ruiz, currently on sabbatical from UCLA, will publish his latest book, A King Travels: Festive Traditions in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain, in April.
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