Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in the history section, will deliver the 27th annual Killian Award Lecture, "'High Crimes and Misdemeanors': Reflections on the Bond between Past and Present," on Tuesday, April 6 at 4pm in Wong Auditorium (Building E51).
"Her impact on the teaching of history in and out of MIT is extraordinary," said Professor Rafael Bras, chair of the Killian award committee, in announcing Professor Maier as the 1998-99 James B. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award recipient last June. Of her book American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, published in 1997 to wide academic and public acclaim, he said, "So much has been written about the Declaration of Independence that it hardly seemed possible for a scholar to bring in fresh materials and a fresh interpretation, yet she has succeeded brilliantly and in the process supplanted the standard works."
"History is generally a 'hard sell' at MIT, a place more given--as Thomas Jefferson once said of himself--to dreams of the future than studies of the past," Professor Maier said in the abstract for her lecture. "Yet today, in one controversy after another that promises to shape the nation's future, Americans scurry back to the 18th century to find guidance in the thoughts of the 'founders' (or perhaps justification for taking a course on which they have already decided). The most prominent example lies in the impeachment proceedings, which from their beginning involved historians and other scholars in an effort to define the constitutional phrase 'high crimes and misdemeanors.'"
Professor Maier said the lecture, which is open to the public, will revisit that issue, but will also ask more important questions of why--and if--we should care about what the founders thought and reflect on the significance of its 18th-century origins for the contemporary United States.
The annual Killian award was established in 1971 as a tribute to the late Dr. Killian, MIT's 10th president and former chairman of the Corporation.
A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 24).