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Jacques Barzun Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

By Joseph Kennedy

Jacques Barzun Receives 2003 Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jacques Barzun, former Columbia professor, dean and provost, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on Wednesday, July 23.

President George W. Bush, in his remarks at the presentation, noted, "From his first book published 71 years ago, to his latest, a best-seller published in 2000, Jacques Barzun has influenced generations of serious readers. Few academics of the last century have equaled his output and his influence."

One of the most outstanding figures at Columbia University, Barzun was born in France 95 years ago and emigrated to the United States in 1919. His entire academic career was spent at Columbia. After graduating from Columbia College in 1927 he became an instructor in the history department. He obtained a Ph.D. in 1932 and was appointed a full professor in 1945. From 1958 to 1967, he was dean of faculties and provost. Barzun became University Professor emeritus in 1975 and moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 1997.

He left a lasting impact on Columbia College, as a key supporter of the creation of the Colloquium on Important Books, which he taught at one time with Lionel Trilling. He later helped establish Humanities A course (now known as Literature Humanities) and taught it regularly.

Barzun was one of the founders of the discipline of cultural history, and for eight decades has written and edited more than 30 critical and historical studies on a wide variety of subjects. A sampling of these include: "Race: A Study in Modern Superstition" (1937); "Romanticism and the Modern Ego" (1945); "The House of Intellect" (1959); "Science: The Glorious Entertainment" (1964); "The Use and Abuse of Art" (1974), and "The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning" (1991). In 2000, he published a grand historical survey, "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life," which became the surprise best seller referenced by President Bush.

Barzun was one of 11 recipients of the 2003 Medal of Freedom. The others were: author and chef Julia Child; baseball legend Roberto Clemente; pianist Van Cliburn; former Czech president Vaclav Havel; actor Charlton Heston; physicist Edward Teller; restaurant operator Dave Thomas; Supreme Court Justice Byron White; political scientist James Q. Wilson; and basketball player and coach John Wooden.

Published: Jul 24, 2003
Last modified: Jul 24, 2003

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