Hanna Holborn Gray


An Academic Life:
A Memoir

in conversation with JANE KAMENSKY

This event includes a book signing


May 14, 2018
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes HANNA HOLBORN GRAY—the first woman president of a major American University—for a discussion of her debut memoir, An Academic Life. She will be joined in conversation by historian, author, and Harvard professor JANE KAMENSKY.

About An Academic Life

Hanna Holborn Gray has lived her entire life in the world of higher education. The daughter of academics, she fled Hitler's Germany with her parents in the 1930s, emigrating to New Haven, where her father was a professor at Yale University. She has studied and taught at some of the world's most prestigious universities. She was the first woman to serve as provost of Yale. In 1978, she became the first woman president of a major research university when she was appointed to lead the University of Chicago, a position she held for fifteen years. In 1991, Gray was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to education.

An Academic Life is a candid self-portrait by one of academia's most respected trailblazers. Gray describes what it was like to grow up as a child of refugee parents, and reflects on the changing status of women in the academic world. She discusses the migration of intellectuals from Nazi-held Europe and the transformative role these exiles played in American higher education—and how the émigré experience in America transformed their own lives and work. She sheds light on the character of university communities, how they are structured and administered, and the balance they seek between tradition and innovation, teaching and research, and undergraduate and professional learning.

An Academic Life speaks to the fundamental issues of purpose, academic freedom, and governance that arise time and again in higher education, and that pose sharp challenges to the independence and scholarly integrity of each new generation.


"Hanna Holborn Gray has written a marvelous book that is at once a rich, warm, and vivid memoir of an astonishing life and a sharp, lively, and informative account of what it is like to run America’s greatest universities. An Academic Life is for anyone who wants to understand how universities have changed, and what they stand for." —Anthony Grafton, author of Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West

"An Academic Life is a brilliant and captivating book. By any measure, Hanna Holborn Gray is a star—deeply learned, immensely wise in the ways of academic institutions, a leader and problem solver of the first rank." —Nancy Weiss Malkiel, author of Keep the Damned Women Out: The Struggle for Coeducation

"A richly detailed autobiography about an exceptionally full life in higher education. Gray's writing is extremely clear, graceful, and spiced with wry humor and candid observations." —Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University and author of The Struggle to Reform Our Colleges

Hanna Holborn Gray
Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray is an American historian of Renaissance and Reformation political thought and Professor of History Emerita at the University of Chicago. She served as president of the University of Chicago, from 1978 to 1993, having earlier served as acting president of Yale University in 1977-78. At both schools, she was the first woman to hold their highest executive office. When named to the post in Chicago, she became the first woman in the United States to hold the full presidency of a major university.

Jane Kamensky
Jane Kamensky

Jane Kamensky

Jane Kamensky’s many books include A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley, winner of the New-York Historical Society’s American History book prize along with three others. For thirty years, she worked as a history professor and higher education leader, most recently as Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and director of the Schlesinger Library at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. In 2024, Kamensky became the president of Monticello/the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Photo credit: Nina Subin

Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138

Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes

As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.

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