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Is the “life of the mind” obsolete and does a liberal arts education have any value today?

Lawrence University historian Jerald Podair examines those questions in the college’s annual Honors Convocation Thursday, May 31. Podair presents “The Only Life: Liberal Arts and the Life of the Mind at Lawrence” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. He also will conduct a question-and-answer session at 2:30 p.m. in the Warch Campus Center cinema. Both events are free and open to the public.

Podair, professor of history and Robert S. French Professor of American Studies, will examine the value of a liberal arts education and why the hallmarks of a Lawrence education — critical thinking, deep reading, analytical reasoning and effective writing — are essential for success in a 21st-century economy as well as for a rich intellectual, emotional and spiritual life.

He was selected for the series as the third recipient of Lawrence’s annual Faculty Convocation Award. Chosen by President Jill Beck from faculty nominations, recipients are selected on the basis of the high quality of their professional work.

The annual honors convocation publicly recognizes students and faculty recipients of awards and prizes for excellence in the arts, humanities, sciences, social sciences, languages and music as well as demonstrated excellence in athletics and service to others. Students elected to honor societies also will be recognized. The students and faculty award winners will receive their awards May 30 at the Honors Dinner.

A specialist on 20th-century American history and race relations, Podair is the author of the books “The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis” and “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer,” a biography of the civil rights leader who planned the 1963 March on Washington.

His current scholarship includes the book “American Conversations,” a collection of transformative documents in American history scheduled for publication this fall and a baseball-themed book on the cultural implications of the Brooklyn Dodgers move to Los Angeles.

Podair joined the Lawrence faculty in 1998 as the winner of that year’s Allan Nevins Prize, an award conferred by the Society of American Historians for the best Ph. D. dissertation in history written in the country that year. He was named a fellow of the New York Academy of History in 2009 and was appointed by the governor to Wisconsin’s Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, on which he served from 2008 to 2009.

A native of New York City, Podair earned his bachelor’s degree at New York University, a law degree from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from Princeton University.