Thomas Jefferson Citation Award
March 12, 2008
Jack Weatherford, a descendant of William “Red Eagle” Weatherford, one of the leaders of the ill-fated war of 1813-1814 fought by the Creek Nation against the United States, was raised on a farm in South Carolina. He spent some years in Germany as a boy, where his father was stationed with the US Army; he returned to Germany later in life when, as a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, he conducted fieldwork for his dissertation, Family Culture, Behavior and Emotion in a Working Class German Town. After obtaining his Ph.D. he joined the staff of Senator John Glenn of Ohio, before coming to Macalester in 1983 to fill a continuing non-tenure-track position in the Anthropology Department. Despite attempts by the likes of the University of California at Berkeley, Georgia State University and his alma mater, UCSD, to steal him away, he declined to leave, perhaps because the frigid cold of a Minnesota winter reminds him of Mongolia.
The thrust of Jack’s work has been to examine the relationship between tribal and nomadic peoples and the settled civilizations with which they came into contact and conflict. His books have generally sought to document the contributions of the dispossessed to world history, or to restore the reputations of those who have been unfairly judged by subsequent generations. As one senior colleague has observed, “Jack is always championing somebody; he’s a libertarian who writes liberal books.” Jack’s books have emerged from the topics that fascinated him in childhood; his boyhood coin collection led to The History of Money, his interest in American Indians to two immensely popular books, Indian Givers and Native Roots, and his boyhood fascination for Mongolia and its triangular stamps was consummated with the publication of the New York Times best seller, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. In total, Jack has published eight books since 1981, when his first book, on the kinship patterns and Byzantine rituals of the U.S. Congress, Tribes on the Hill, appeared. His books have been translated into most of the world’s major languages and several minor ones; his most recent, on Genghis Khan, appeared in Mongolian (both classical and modern) before it saw the light of day in English, and has since been translated into Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Turkish, Spanish, Czech, Portuguese, Serbian and Hebrew. A twelve-part HBO mini-series based on the book is in the works. Jack is currently working on his ninth book, tentatively entitled The Daughters of Genghis Khan.
Jack is the quintessential academic, devoted to his scholarship and the craft of writing, and pursing both with a discipline that brooks of no distractions. His public service takes place on a global stage, and is intimately bound up with his scholarship. Jack has been a major ambassador of the college both to its alumni and also to the world at large. His work reached its apogee with the response in Mongolia to his book on Genghis Khan, but was foreshadowed by the response to his book Indian Givers, which focused attention on the contribution of the native peoples of the Americas to world civilization. American Indian communities responded enthusiastically to the book; the people of the Pine Ridge reservation, for example, held a pow-wow in its honor. Profits from his books have gone to the Native American College Fund and the Native American Rights Fund. But his work on Genghis Khan took revisionist scholarship to new heights. Jack singlehandedly transformed the perception modern societies have had of the world’s greatest empire builder, a perception shaped by the descendants of those he conquered who had little good to say about him. His book on Genghis has sold several hundred thousand copies in its various translations, and has had a tremendous impact in Mongolia, where the country’s history had been suppressed during the long years of Stalinist rule. Mongolia recognized his contribution to the revival of the great Khan’s reputation by conferring on him its highest civilian order, the Order of the Polar Star, at a nationally televised ceremony in Ulaan Baatar in 2007. Jack’s dedication to Mongolia goes deep; over the years and at his own expense, he has brought many Mongolian students to the United States. Few scholars of foreign societies have had as profound an impact as he has had on the countries they have studied.
This year’s Thomas Jefferson Award goes to an impressive scholar and an outstanding teacher whose work has brought honor and distinction to the college—Jack Weatherford.
Nine Honored at Annual Awards Convo
The following notable alumni and faculty were recognized at the 2008 Alumni Awards Convocation, held in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Concert Hall during Alumni Weekend, June 1-3, 2007: Honorary Degree - Donald F. Beisswenger ’52; Alumni Distinguished Citizens - Genell L. Knatterud ’52, Gerald A. Meigs ’57, Roger W. Strand ’57, Timothy O’Brien ’68, Carol Leino Carey ’82; Young Alumni Award - Amalia C. Anderson ’96; Catharine Lealtad Service to Society Award - Melvin Collins ’75; Alumni Service Award - Judy L. Vicars ’68