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  Winter Commencement
U-M to bestow two honorary degrees

The University will award honorary degrees at Winter Commencement to an activist and scholar who places civil rights and mathematical literacy in a "radical equation," and to a prominent historian who has challenged the accepted views of intellectual history.

Robert P. Moses will receive the degree doctor of laws and Elizabeth L. Eisenstein will receive the degree doctor of humane letters. The ceremony is 2 p.m. Dec. 19 at Crisler Arena.

Moses will receive the honorary degree for his "visionary leadership to our nation by combining his expertise in education with his passion for social justice."

Moses (Photo by Benjamin Moynihan)

After receiving his undergraduate degree at Harvard University, Moses launched his career as an educator by teaching mathematics at the Horace Mann School in New York City in 1958. In 1961, he left to join the civil rights movement in Mississippi. "He became an imaginative, audacious and fearless organizer in the civil rights movement," according to the degree citation honoring Moses.

He was field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and was instrumental in establishing the Freedom Summer Project, which created "Freedom Schools" across Mississippi to help register African American voters. He was attacked and beaten by law enforcement officials for his efforts.

Moses later pursued doctoral work in philosophy at Harvard and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1982. During the five years of the fellowship, he developed the Algebra Project, through which he encouraged mathematical literacy.

"In today's world, economic access and full citizenship depend crucially on math and science literacy," Moses wrote. "I believe that the absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout this country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered black voters in Mississippi was in 1961."

Moses has expanded the Algebra Project in cities across the country and has won numerous awards as founder and president of the project. He is co-author, with Charles E. Cobb Jr., of the award-winning book "Radical Equations—Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project" (2001).

Eisenstein, one of America's most distinguished historians, achieved worldwide recognition while serving as the Alice Freeman Palmer Professor of History at U-M, a position she held from 1975 until her retirement in 1988.
Eisenstein (Photo courtesy Elizabeth L. Eisenstein)

Since the time she completed her doctorate at Radcliffe College in 1953, Eisenstein's scholarship has demonstrated three qualities that only rarely come together: meticulous original research, analysis that has become a focus of historical debate and interpretations that are adopted across many scholarly fields, the degree citation notes.

Her early work examined the emergence of the professional revolutionary as a new historical type and challenged the dominant view of the French Revolution as a middle-class rebellion in a way so fundamental and stimulating that her work became the focus of several influential symposia and special issues of scholarly journals.

Her subsequent research included the 1979 study "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change," which has had international influence. Based on massive research in many languages, it examines the conditions in Western Europe that encouraged the spread of printing and demonstrates the crucial role of printing in the dissemination of Renaissance culture, the disruption of Western Christendom and the rise of modern science.

This work shows how printing altered the meaning of memory and conceptions of time and history, the citation says, and it has been the subject of countless symposia, conferences, scholarly articles and entire books that reflect on the "Eisenstein theory."

Eisenstein's professional honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. She also served as a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2002 received the Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association.

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