Nationally Renowned Scholar, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Speaks at Southern Vermont College Event

December 7, 2009

Scholar, editor, literary critic, researcher, historian, and author Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., spoke on Friday, December 11, at the Bennington Center for the Arts as part of Southern Vermont College’s 2009-2010 From Inspiration to Innovation lecture series. Gates’ talk, entitled “Genealogy, Genetics and African-American History,” was followed by a book-signing. 

The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute of African and African American Research at Harvard University, Gates explored an innovative approach to genealogy that was featured in the PBS miniseries, “African American Lives.” Gates has been working with Southern Vermont College on a first-year course, and in his lecture Gates will address research and DNA analysis and poignant family stories in a lively discussion on individual lineage and African-American history. 

Southern Vermont College is one of the first colleges in the country to institute Gates’ research into its academic curriculum, with this semester’s course, Exploring Faces of Diversity: Building the ‘I am…and I am from’ Exhibit. Students in this first-year course have completed their own genealogical research, including DNA testing, and are creating an exhibit based on their individual histories for the Bennington Museum. In addition to his talk at Bennington Center for the Arts, Gates viewed the museum exhibit and met with SVC students, according to Provost Albert DeCiccio, who taught the class. “We were very fortunate to have Dr. Gates as a mentor for this class and as a guest here on campus,” DeCiccio said. College President Karen Gross added, “Dr. Gates brings remarkable experience and wisdom, and I am delighted our students, faculty and staff can learn from and with him. Dr. Gates appreciates the work of small colleges like SVC, and his presence on our campus is a tangible symbol of this.” 

Gates is currently at work on another PBS documentary, “Faces of America, to air in February. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies, and of The Root, an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture and genealogy. 

Most recently, Gates is the author of Looking for Lincoln, In Search of our Roots, and Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own. Some of his other writings include America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans, African American Lives (co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham), The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, edited with Hollis Robbins, and The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (co-edited with Nellie McKay). 

Gates has also authored several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the ‘Racial’ Self, The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers, Thirteen Ways of Looking at A Black Man, and Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars

Professor Gates received an M.A. and Ph.D. degree in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge and a B.A. in History from Yale University. His honors and grants include a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the George Polk Award for Social Commentary, Time magazine’s 25 Most Influential Americans list, National Humanities Medal, the Jay B. Hubbell Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association, and the Cultures of Peace Award from the City of Cultures of Peace. He has also received 49 honorary degrees from many institutions. This past October, the New York State Archives and the Archives Partnership Trust honored Dr. Gates with the Empire State Archives and History Award. 

Professor Gates has served as chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard, and he serves on numerous boards, including the New York Public Library, the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. 

The SVC lecture series continues on Tuesday, March 2, with luxury goods designer and entrepreneur Sandra Jordan, owner of the Sandra Jordan Prima Alpaca™, who will speak at Southern Vermont College on “Alpaca: From Commodity to Branded Luxury.” On Friday, March 19, Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello, will speak at the Bennington Center for the Arts on "Presidents, Family, and Culture: Rethinking History." 

For more information on the lectures, call SVC’s Office of Communications at 802-447-6388, e-mail