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David McCullough to Receive 2011 Philip Merrill Award

August 3, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC—David McCullough, internationally recognized historian and author, will receive the 2011 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education.

American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) President Anne D. Neal will present the award at a Nov. 5 dinner in Washington, DC. The Merrill Award is the only one in the nation honoring those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the advancement of liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.

“David McCullough has introduced generations to the wonders of American history,” said Neal in announcing the award. “His lively and popular accounts have responded to a vast public thirst for engaging historical narratives that too rarely come from inside the walls of academe. Through writing and public advocacy, Mr. McCullough has advanced the importance of a rich liberal arts education and helped draw attention to the urgent need for Americans to understand our history and our heritage.”

In 2000, when ACTA issued its first report on historical amnesia, Losing America’s Memory, McCullough came to her side, saying: “Anyone who doubts that we are raising a generation of young Americans who are historically illiterate needs only to read this truly alarming report.”

McCullough is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the 2003 National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecturer and continues to be a frequent contributor to discussions and symposia concerning history education. His many award-winning books include 1776, John Adams, and Truman. McCullough’s latest work, The Greater Journey, about Americans in Paris from the 1830s to the 1900s, was released in May.

“David McCullough’s books have brought American history alive for innumerable readers,” said Yale Professor, 2009 Merrill Award winner, and 2011 selection committee member Donald Kagan.

Fellow selection committee member, Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, agreed, saying, “David McCullough is such a wonderful storyteller of American history. He is personally as engaging and delightful as his books. His selection adds luster to the award, even given the luminaries who have won previously.”

Launched in 2005, the Merrill Award is named after Philip Merrill, a publisher, entrepreneur, philanthropist, university trustee and distinguished public servant who counseled six presidential administrations. Merrill, who served on ACTA’s founding National Council, focused his philanthropic efforts on a number of areas including improving the quality of higher education.

The selection committee for the 2011 award included Kagan and McPherson, as well as Alan Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania; Hans Mark, former chancellor and professor of engineering at the University of Texas—Austin; Martin Peretz, editor emeritus of The New Republic; Abigail Thernstrom, member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education; James Q. Wilson, Medal of Freedom winner and professor of public policy at Pepperdine University; and Gordon Wood, emeritus professor of history at Brown University.

Past recipients of the Merrill Award are Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University; Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University; Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center; Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of History and Classics at Yale University; KC Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center; and Benno Schmidt, chairman of the City University of New York Board of Trustees.

Presentation of the Merrill Prize marks the culmination of ACTA’s annual Alumni and Trustees for Higher Education Accountability (ATHENA) conference. ATHENA brings together donors, trustees, and policymakers to discuss critical issues in higher education. Confirmed speakers at the Nov. 4 and 5 conference include former Treasury Secretary and Harvard Professor Larry Summers, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian and Brown University Professor Emeritus Gordon Wood, and John Engler, former governor of Michigan and president of the Business Roundtable.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence and accountability. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards, educated the public and published reports about such issues as good governance, historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas and accreditation in higher education. 


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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