May 23, 1996
Vol. 15, No. 18

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    Quantrell Award: Hanna Gray

    Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor in History After a 21-year absence from the classroom, Hanna Gray is rediscovering the joy of teaching.

    Gray, who began her academic career as a history professor, has returned to the classroom after serving in a number of administrative posts, including 15 years as President of the University. She is teaching courses on the Renaissance and Reformation periods, as well as other topics in history.

    The rewards of teaching college students remain much the same as when she first taught, said Gray, the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor in History.

    "I really enjoy returning to teaching. It is a very renewing experience," said Gray, who added that she likes the opportunity to reread and share texts that are central to her field. The observations students make about the material is stimulating, she said.

    "I like the discussions we have in class, and I like working individually with students. It's truly a pleasure to see students develop and learn to work more independently," she continued.

    Gray said she enjoys seeing the students get excited about the texts they read -- Machiavelli's The Prince, from the Renaissance period, for example -- texts that explore universal themes of Western society, such as power and the role of the intellectual in public life.

    In teaching the Renaissance and the Reformation, she emphasizes intellectual history. "We look at the particular problems of the times and the ways in which the intellectuals understood them and proposed solutions to those problems," she said.

    Students taking the courses have already been exposed to some important ancient texts as part of their preparation in Core courses. This preparation, Gray said, helps give them the background they need to discuss the issues of the Renaissance and how the Renaissance authors thought that what they were writing about was a rediscovery of ancient truths.

    In delving into these issues, Gray uses a variety of approaches. "Sometimes I lecture -- it's something I do particularly in the early part of the quarter when there is more new material to cover. Sometimes we have a class discussion, or a lecture and then a discussion, and sometimes I just begin the class with a discussion."

    As a historian, Gray is a specialist in the history of humanism, political and historical thought, and politics in the Renaissance and the Reformation. She joined the history faculty at the University in 1961 and taught here until in 1972, when she became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of history at Northwestern.

    In 1974, she was named provost of Yale. She was acting president of Yale from 1977 to 1978, when she became President at Chicago. She served as President until 1993. Gray received her B.A. in 1950 from Bryn Mawr and her Ph.D. in 1957 from Harvard. She was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford from 1950 to 1952.

    -- William Harms