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George Chauncey, Kluge Winner

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Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today that historian George Chauncey will receive the 2022 John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity. Chauncey is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University. He directs the Columbia Research Institute on the Global History of Sexualities.

“Professor Chauncey’s trailblazing career gave us all better insight into, and understanding of, the LGBTQ+ community and history,” Hayden said. “His work that helped transform our nation’s attitudes and laws epitomizes the Kluge Center’s mission to support research at the intersection of the humanities and public policy.”

Chauncey is the first scholar in LGBTQ+ studies to receive the prize. He is known for his pioneering 1994 history “Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940,” his 2004 book “Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today’s Debate over Gay Equality,” and his work as an expert in more than 30 court cases related to LGBTQ+ rights. These include such landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases as Romer v. Evans (1996), Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and the marriage equality cases United States v. Windsor (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015).

“I am deeply honored to receive the Kluge Prize,” Chauncey said, “and grateful that the Library of Congress has recognized the importance and vibrancy of the field of LGBTQ history.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, former Kluge Prize winner and Harvard historian, was delighted by the news.

“(He) has entirely revised our understanding of LGBTQ history in the United States and in so doing has established it as one of the most vibrant fields of current historical inquiry,” she said. “Through his testimony in numerous court cases, he has brought the meaning of his work into the public sphere and has contributed in powerful ways to the establishment of marriage equality.”

Book cover features color drawing of two men in tuxedos and tops hats
“Gay New York.” Image courtesy of Basic Books.

“Gay New York” was released in 1994 during the 25th anniversary of the LGBTQ+ rights protests at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, focusing on the gay community in New York City before World War II. Chauncey’s research utilized newspapers, police records, oral histories, diaries and other primary sources to show that there was a much more vibrant and visible gay world than is generally understood today, less than a century later.

It argued that there was a permeable boundary between straight and gay behavior, especially among working-class men. “Gay New York” won numerous prizes for its scholarship including the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize from the Organization of American Historians, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Studies.

“Why Marriage?” drew on Chauncey’s extensive research prepared for court cases in which he provided expert testimony. It traces the history of both gay and anti-gay activism and discusses the origins of the modern struggle for gay marriage.

Legal historian Sarah Barringer Gordon said Chauncey’s “work gave rise to an entire new field…and has expanded into arenas that affect daily life, such as marriage equality.”

Color head and shoulders shot of George Chauncey. He is outdoors, wearing a striped business shirt and suit jacket.
George Chauncey.

Chauncey grew up as the son of a minister in the Deep South, whose work on civil rights issues was often deeply unpopular with his white evangelical congregations. “He was sometimes asked to leave” churches, Chauncey recalled, causing the family to move often.

Chauncey received a Bachelor of Arts and a doctorate from Yale University. He was the Samuel Knight Professor of History & American Studies at Yale from 2006 to 2017, and held posts as chair of the History Department, chair of the Committee for LGBT Studies, and director of graduate studies and undergraduate studies for the American Studies program. He was awarded Yale’s teaching prize for his lecture course on U.S. Lesbian and Gay History, which more than 300 students took the final time he taught it. Chauncey taught at the University of Chicago from 1991 through 2006 before coming back to New York to teach at Columbia.

He has been an elected member of the New York Academy of History since 2007 and a member of the Society of American Historians since 2005. He is married to Ronald Gregg, a film historian and director of the master’s program in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University.

The Library will collaborate with Chauncey to create programming to bring his expertise on LGBTQ+ history to the public and policymakers.

The Kluge Prize recognizes individuals whose outstanding scholarship in the humanities and social sciences has shaped public affairs and civil society. Awarded to a scholar every two years, the international prize highlights the value of researchers who communicate beyond the scholarly community and have had a major impact on social and political issues. The prize comes with a $500,000 award. Additional funds from the Library’s Kluge endowment, which funds the award, are being invested in Kluge Center programming.

Chauncey joins a prestigious group of past prize winners that includes German philosopher Jürgen Habermas; former president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso; and the groundbreaking scholar of African American history, John Hope Franklin.

Danielle Allen, a renowned scholar of justice, citizenship, and democracy, was the 2020 winner of the Kluge Prize. She held a series of events with the Library titled “Our Common Purpose,” which explored American civic life and how it might be strengthened. Faust won the 2018 prize and participated in a conversation with Hayden on women in leadership.

he Kluge Center brings some of the world’s great thinkers to the Library to make use of its collections and engage in conversations addressing the challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

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