George Chauncey, DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History, has won this year’s John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity, a $500,000 award administered by the Library of Congress that recognizes work in disciplines not covered by the Nobel Prizes.
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. Past winners include philosopher Jurgen Habermas, political theorist Danielle Allen, and the historians John Hope Franklin and Drew Gilpin Faust.
“I’m honored to receive this prize, and am grateful that with it the Library of Congress has recognized the significance of LGBTQ history,” Chauncey said. “I find it deeply rewarding to teach LGBTQ history to students at Columbia, so I’m pleased the Library of Congress plans to organize a series of public history events in the coming year, which will enable me to share this history with their large and diverse audience.”
A pioneer in queer studies, Chauncey’s work has been widely taught and also widely read beyond the academy. In his groundbreaking study, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, he described a gay world that was much more extensive, vibrant, and visible than scholars had believed existed and analyzed the complex sexual cultures of Black, immigrant, and white working-class and middle-class neighborhoods.
He brought that research to bear in his testimony and other work as an expert witness in more than 30 gay rights cases, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which invalidated sodomy laws, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which established the right of gay couples to marry nationwide. He taught at the University of Chicago and at Yale before coming to Columbia in 2017. For the Fall 2022 semester, his history class, “U.S. Lesbian & Gay History,” has maxed out its enrollment at 200, illustrating the considerable student interest in this subject.
“Professor Chauncey’s trailblazing career gave us all better insight into, and understanding of, the LGBTQ+ community and history. 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,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “He was the perfect choice to receive the 2022 Kluge Prize.”