Malcolm Lester Lectures

Andrew DelbancoThe Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Zeta Chapter of Georgia at Mercer University will host the fifth annual Malcolm Lester Phi Beta Kappa Lectures on Liberal Arts and Public Life March 24-25 in the Presidents Dining Room on the Macon campus.

Dr. Andrew Delbanco, Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University and president of the Teagle Foundation, will present three lectures on the theme “What Do Our Colleges and Universities Owe to Black Americans?” All lectures are free and open to the public.

“Andrew Delbanco is one of the most astute cultural historians in the United States and has written widely about the opportunities and challenges facing U.S. higher education. Over the course of his distinguished career, he has examined American concepts of freedom and liberty with attention to the gap between ideals and reality. In these lectures, he will discuss a persistent issue of inequality that challenges our democracy,” said Dr. David A. Davis, president of Mercer’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and editor of the Lester Lecture Series.

Dr. Delbanco’s opening lecture is titled “The Era of Slavery” and will take place March 24 at 11 a.m. It will be followed by “The Struggle for Inclusion” March 24 at 5 p.m. and “The Question of Reparations” March 25 at 11 a.m.

“I am honored by the invitation to deliver the Malcolm Lester Lectures and hope to open up discussion of one of the most pressing challenges we face in our struggle to become a more equitable society,” said Dr. Delbanco.

Dr. Delbanco’s most recent book, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War (Penguin Press, 2018), was named a New York Times notable book and awarded the Lionel Trilling Award, the Mark Lynton History Prize, as well as the Anisfield-Wolf Prize for “books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity.”

Among his other books, Melville: His World and Work (Knopf, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in biography, and College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton University Press, 2012) has been translated into several languages. His essays appear in The New York Review of Books, The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Nation and other periodicals. 

Dr. Delbanco was elected president of the Society of American Historians for 2021-2022 and has been a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001. That same year, he was named “America’s Best Social Critic” by Time magazine. In 2006, he was honored with the Great Teacher Award by the Society of Columbia Graduates, and in 2013, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society. In 2012, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.

Dr. Delbanco earned his A.B., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University and holds honorary degrees from Ursinus College, Occidental College and Marlboro College.


Malcolm LesterAbout the Lectures

Mercer University hosts the Malcolm Lester Phi Beta Kappa Lectures on the Liberal Arts and Public Life each year as part of our Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony. 

Dr. Malcolm Lester had a vision for a series of lectures that supports the mission of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and that reaches a broad audience to influence the discourse about liberal arts in the United States. A 1945 graduate of Mercer University, he earned his PhD from the University of Virginia, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a graduate student. He returned to Mercer to teach history, and he was named dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1955. He left Mercer in 1959 to join the faculty of Davidson College, where he taught for the next thirty years. While at Davidson, he served as a Phi Beta Kappa senator and member of the Committee on Qualifications, which reviews schools’ applications to shelter chapters of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He felt strongly that Mercer should shelter a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and he encouraged faculty to apply. In 2007, he made a gift for a lecture series on the liberal arts at Mercer to commence once Mercer sheltered a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Mercer received a charter in 2016.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society is a leading voice advocating for the value and benefits of liberal arts and sciences education, fostering freedom of thought, and recognizing academic excellence. The Malcolm Lester Lectures reinforce the society’s mission to advocate for the liberal arts and provide an important platform for thought leaders in the liberal arts to articulate the role of the liberal arts in public life. While many people see this value as self-evident, social and political resistance to liberal arts education indicates a need to explain how liberal arts and sciences education works, why it matters, and how people benefit from it.

Past Lectures