Houston A. Baker Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Distinguished University Professor Houston A. Baker was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) in early 2020. Founded in 1780 by John Adams and John Hancock, among others, the AAAS has previously elected luminaries and leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martha Graham, Margaret Mead, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Present-day members collaborate on interdisciplinary, non-partisan research and outreach to inform policymaking, business endeavors, and philanthropy in six fields: Arts & Humanities, Democracy & Justice, Education, Energy & Environment, Global Affairs, and Science & Technology.
Baker was elected to the AAAS in recognition of his leading role in the field of Black Studies, which he pioneered while on the faculty at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, Baker founded the ground-breaking Center for the Study of Black Literature and Culture, now the Center for Africana Studies. He has previously received Guggenheim, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. He has also served as President of the Modern Language Association, as editor of the journal American Literature, and on the advisory and editorial boards of scholarly organizations in the United States and abroad. His book Betrayal: How Black Intellectuals Have Abandoned the Ideals of the Civil Rights Era won an American Book Award in 2009.
A member of the Vanderbilt faculty for 15 years, Baker came to the university in part because of the university’s willingness to examine its own legacy with regard to race, gender, and class. The more recent establishment of Opportunity Vanderbilt and other bold, meaningful efforts to reach underrepresented students have made him proud that he took the job. He also appreciates the university’s recognition that full representation of African American life and global cultures is a worthy goal that Vanderbilt must continue striving to achieve. Above all, however, he values his connection with students. Offering his expertise to students and seeing positive changes take place, says Baker, “is what makes me happy in this life.”