Emerita IU faculty member Fedwa Malti-Douglas honored with National Humanities Medal

  • Sept. 4, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Fedwa Malti-Douglas, College Professor and Martha C. Kraft Emerita Professor of Humanities in the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences, has been named one of 10 recipients of the National Humanities Medal for 2014 by President Barack Obama in recognition of her scholarly work, notably her contributions to the study of Arabic literature and the Middle East.

Malti-Douglas, who retired from the faculty at IU Bloomington in December 2012, taught gender studies and cultural legal studies in the College and the IU Maurer School of Law. A native of Lebanon, Malti-Douglas is the author of nine major scholarly books, including "The Starr Report Disrobed," for which she was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

In announcing the medal recipients, Obama cited Malti-Douglas’ studies of Arabic letters, her mapping of the discourse of gender and letters in the Arab Middle East and the application of her insights to American culture.

"I am shocked, surprised and so honored knowing that I am going to receive a National Humanities Medal from President Obama," Malti-Douglas said. "I would like to see this honor as validation for my constantly seeking to tread new intellectual paths, to swim in new cultural waters and to explore unmapped territories. I have always felt that life is learning. Presently, I am completing a memoir and am beginning a new novel, my third."

Malti-Douglas’ intellectual focus throughout much of her career has been on visual and verbal narratives, especially those that relate to issues of marginality, disability and gender. Her work, which spans centuries and crosses continental borders, explores myriad subjects including classical literature, medieval history, Arab-Islamic writing, gender relations and privacy.

She began her career as a medievalist before turning her attention to contemporary Middle East and North Africa, later broadening her research area to include Europe, Latin America and the United States. Among many honors, Malti-Douglas was elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the country, in 2004. She is one of only five living APS fellows at IU.

“Fedwa’s extensive body of work has contributed deeply to a greater understanding of central questions of gender equality, cultural identity, religion and much more, and is in the very best tradition of the liberal arts and humanities heritage of Indiana University,” IU President Michael A. McRobbie said. “She is a most deserving recipient of this honor, a crowning achievement in what has been an extraordinary academic career." 

Malti-Douglas becomes the third IU faculty member to receive the National Humanities Medal, which has been awarded to 163 individuals and 12 organizations since its inception in 1996. She joins historian John Lewis Gaddis, who taught at IU Southeast early in his career, and art critic Hilton Kramer, who studied and taught at IU Bloomington.

The honor recognizes individuals and organizations “whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.”

The nomination process for the medal is managed on behalf of the White House by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which was formed in 1965 to support research, education and preservation of the humanities. Obama will honor Malti-Douglas and the other 2014 medal recipients at a White House ceremony Sept. 10. The ceremony will be live streamed at

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