CUNY/Leon Levy Foundation create Biography Center

Leon LevyThe New York Times is reporting that the Graduate Center of the City University of New York has plans for a new institution devoted to “the art and scholarship of biography.”

Financed by a $3.7 million gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, the new center will offer four fellowships for this fall to academics and others who are working on biographies, as well as two fellowships to graduate students at CUNY who are writing biographical dissertations. Next year the center will add two more fellowship slots.

The new center will be co-directed by Nancy Milford and David Nasaw and will sponsor an annual conference.

Nasaw, who is also executive director of the Center for the Humanities at CUNY, said he wanted to address the sense among university professors that biography was “the stepchild of the academy.”

But there are signs that scholars, particularly historians, are revising their views. Mr. Nasaw was recently invited by The American Historical Review, the flagship journal of the American Historical Association, a membership organization for professional historians, to write about the craft for a coming issue on the theme of biography. (Mr. Nasaw, who has written biographies of Andrew Carnegie and William Randolph Hearst, declined the invitation. “I just thought that I didn’t want to defend that which I thought didn’t need defending,” he said.)

Robert A. Schneider, editor of the review, explained: “We haven’t considered it a kind of legitimate scholarship in some respects. But increasingly historians are turning to biography.” He added, “I think we have to be open to it and explore it.”

Fellows will receive a $60,000 stipend, but no additional housing allowance to live in New York City. Despite this, at the time of writing, CUNY had already received over 100 applications.

Related Readings

  • Porter, T. M. (2006). Is the life of the scientist a scientific unit? Isis, 97, 314-321.
  • Smocovitis, V. B. (1999). Living with your biographical subject: Special problems of distance, privacy, and trust in the biography of G. Ledyard Stebbins, Jr. Journal of the History of Biology, 32, 421-438.
  • Terrall, M. (2006). Biography as cultural history of science. Isis, 97 306-313.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.