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Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award: Kaja Silverman

May 3, 2011, Volume 57, No. 32


University of Pennsylvania professor Kaja Silverman has received the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of her exemplary contributions to humanistic scholarship. Dr. Silverman, the Katherine Stein Sachs CW’69 and Keith L. Sachs W’67 Professor of Art History, will receive a $1.5 million award to be used over approximately six years in support of her scholarly pursuits as a visual theorist.

“Kaja Silverman is one of the most influential humanists of our day, whose work in the history of art, and film and visual studies has contributed greatly to our nation’s intellectual life,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “By bestowing this award on Kaja—the single-largest prize awarded in the Humanities outside of the Nobel Prize—the Mellon Foundation has ensured that her important work will continue to influence students and scholars throughout the world and help develop our understanding of what it means to be human.”

The Mellon awards are intended for individuals whose past scholarship has had a creative effect in their disciplines and on their own students, has affected the thinking of scholars in other fields, and whose current work promises to make significant new contributions through both teaching and research. 

Dr. Silverman, whose studies encompass film, photography, art, psychoanalysis, literature, and feminist theory, is the author of eight books including James Coleman; World Spectators, Speaking About Godard; and The Threshold of the Visual World. Her most recent book, Flesh of My Flesh, was published in 2009.

Her writing and teaching focus primarily on phenomenology, psychoanalysis, photography, time-based visual art, and literature. She teaches courses on cinema, is interested in painting, and has an ongoing commitment to feminist theory. She is currently writing a book about photography titled The Miracle of Analogy.

SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell commented, “This award is a fitting recognition. Kaja’s scholarship is truly remarkable for its breadth and creativity, and she energizes discourse across the humanities.” 

Dr. Silverman received her PhD in English from Brown University. Before joining the School of Arts and Sciences history of art department at Penn in 2010, Dr. Silverman taught at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2008 she was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship.

The award will provide Dr. Silverman and Penn with resources to deepen and extend humanistic studies and support programs and events that will enhance both Dr. Silverman’s research and teaching in the arts and scholarly communities at Penn, in the region and nation.

Over the past ten years the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has conferred three to four Distinguished Achievement awards per year. Recipients are chosen from such fields as classics, history, history of art, musicology, philosophy, religious studies and all areas of literary studies.

Almanac - May 3, 2011, Volume 57, No. 32