Henry Louis Gates

Henry Louis Gates

Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University

Speaker Categories: Historians | Historians | Headliners | University Professors | Human Rights | Headliners - Motivation | Inspiring Lives | Education | Diversity & Inclusion | Ethics/Values

Travels From: MA, United States.

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Henry Louis Gates Bio
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One of the Most Powerful Academic Voices in America

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Professor Gates is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, the first comprehensive scholarly online resource in the field of African American Studies and Africana Studies, and of The Root, an online news magazine dedicated to coverage of African American news, culture, and genealogy.

Books and Publications

Professor Gates is the author of Finding Oprah’s Roots, Finding Your Own, a meditation on genetics, genealogy, and race. His other recent books are America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans, African American Lives, co-edited with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and The Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, edited with Hollis Robbins (W. W. Norton, 2006). In January 2009, his book In Search of Our Roots was published, expanding on interviews he conducted for his multi-part PBS documentary series, “African American Lives.”

Professor Gates is the author of several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the “Racial” Self (Oxford University Press, 1987); and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1988), winner of the American Book Award in 1989. He has has edited several influential anthologies, including The Norton Anthology of African American Literature and the Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers. He is also the editor of numerous essay collections, including Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology (Meridian, 1990); "Race," Writing, and Difference (University of Chicago, 1986); and, with K. Anthony Appiah, volumes on the authors Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes. In addition, Professor Gates is publisher of Transition magazine, an international review of African, Caribbean, and African American politics. An influential cultural critic, Professor Gates has written a 1994 cover story for Time magazine, numerous articles for the New Yorker, and in September 2004, a biweekly guest column in The New York Times.


In 2006, Professor Gates wrote and produced the PBS documentary also called “African American Lives,” the first documentary series to employ genealogy and genetic science to provide an understanding of African American history. In 2007, a follow-up one-hour documentary, “Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special,” aired on PBS, further examining the genealogical and genetic heritage of Oprah Winfrey, who had been featured in the original documentary. The second series, “African American Lives 2,” aired on PBS in February 2008. Professor Gates also wrote and produced the documentaries “Wonders of the African World” (2000) and “America Beyond the Color Line” (2004) for the BBC and PBS, and authored the companion volumes to both series. PBS brocasted his documentary, “Looking for Lincoln,” in February 2009.

Awards and Recogntion

His honors and grants include a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” (1981), the George Polk Award for Social Commentary (1993), Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Americans” list (1997), a National Humanities Medal (1998), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), the Jefferson Lecture (2002), a Visiting Fellowship at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2003-2004), the Jay B. Hubbell Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association (2006), ), the Rave Award from Wired Magazine (2007), the Let’s Do It Better Award from of the Columbia University School of Journalism for “African American Lives” (2007), and the Cultures of Peace Award from the City of the Cultures of Peace (2007). In 2006, he was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution, after he traced his lineage back to John Redman, a Free Negro who fought in the Revolutionary War. 

Education and Academia

Professor Gates earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, and his B.A. summa cum laude in History from Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, in 1973. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Yale. Before joining the faculty of Harvard in 1991, he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke. He has received 49 honorary degrees, from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Williams College, Emory University, Howard University, University of Toronto, and the University of Benin.

W.E.B. Du Bois and the Encyclopedia Africana

In this informational and intellectually stimulating lecture, Professor Gates delves into the history of W.E.B. Du Bois's three failed attempts to edit a black encyclopedia Britannica, and our efforts to bring Du Bois's dream to fruition.

African American Lives: Genealogy, Genetics, and Black History

A lively discussion on individual lineage and African American History in which Professor Gates addresses research, DNA analysis, and poignant family stories.

The African American National Biography

As the Editor of the African American National Biography, published by Oxford University Press in 2008, Professor Gates provides eye-opening analysis of the text while illuminating the abiding influence of persons of African descent on the life line of America.

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