Robert Darnton

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Robert Darnton
Darnton in 2006
Darnton in 2006
Born (1939-05-10) May 10, 1939 (age 84)
New York City, US
OccupationHistorian, librarian
EducationPhilips Academy
Alma mater
SubjectCultural history, 18th-century France, history of the book
Notable worksThe Great Cat Massacre
SpouseSusan Darnton

Robert Choate Darnton (born May 10, 1939) is an American cultural historian and academic librarian who specializes in 18th-century France.

He was director of the Harvard University Library from 2007 to 2016.


Darnton was born in New York City. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1957 and Harvard University in 1960, attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship, and earned a PhD (DPhil) in history from Oxford in 1964, where he studied with Richard Cobb, among others. The title of his thesis was Trends in radical propaganda on the eve of the French Revolution (1782–1788). He worked as reporter at The New York Times from 1964 to 1965. He was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows from 1965 to 1968. Joining the Princeton University faculty in 1968, he was appointed Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of European History and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1982. He was president of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies from 1987 to 1991, where he founded the East-West Seminar, now continued as the International Seminar for Early Career Scholars.[1][2] He served as president of the American Historical Association in 1999, where he founded the Gutenberg-e Program, sponsored by Mellon Foundation.[3][4]

Darnton was a trustee of the Oxford University Press from 1994 to 2007. He is a trustee of the New York Public Library, where he designed and helped launch the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.[5]

On July 1, 2007, he transferred to emeritus status at Princeton, and was appointed Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the Harvard University Library, succeeding Sidney Verba.[6] As University Librarian, he co-founded the Digital Public Library of America[7] and he designed the digital archive Colonial North America: Worlds of Change. In January 2016, Ann Blair succeeded him as the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor.[8]

Darnton is a pioneer in the field of the history of the book, and has written about electronic publishing.

Awards and honors[edit]

His first major prize was the Leo Gershoy Award for The Business of Enlightenment in 1979. He was later elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980 and the American Philosophical Society in 1989.[9][10] He has also received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism for The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996).

In 1999, he was named a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, an award given by the French government, in recognition of his work. In 2004 he was awarded the Gutenberg Prize of the International Gutenberg Society and the City of Mainz by the International Gutenberg Society [de].

In 2005, he received an award for distinguished achievement from the American Printing History Association.[11]

Prof. Darnton with prof. Hans Tuzzi at Festivaletteratura of Mantua, September 8, 2018.

On February 13, 2012, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal 2011 by President Barack Obama, for his determination to make knowledge accessible to everyone.

In 2013, he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca lifetime achievement award by the Institut de France.[12]


His brother is the retired New York Times editor and author John Darnton, and his father was the war correspondent Byron Darnton.


External videos
video icon George Washington’s False Teeth, August 31, 20031, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Darnton on The Case for Books, February 3, 2010, C-SPAN

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Past ISECS Congresses and Presidents - ISECS - International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies - UQTR". Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  2. ^ "ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars". BSECS. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  3. ^ "Robert Darnton". Harvard Alumni. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  4. ^ Robert Darnton; Liz Townsend; Robert Townsend (2000). "AHA Presidential Addresses: Robert Darnton, 1999". American Historical Association. Retrieved August 3, 2011.
  5. ^ Taylor, Kate. "Amherst President is Expected to Be Named Chief of the New York Public Library," New York Times. October 6, 2010.
  6. ^ Albanese, Andrew (May 25, 2007). "Princeton's Robert Darnton To Succeed Verba as Harvard Library Director". Library Journal. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  7. ^ "Launch of the Digital Public Library of America". Harvard University Press Blog. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  8. ^ "Ann Blair named University Professor". Harvard Gazette. November 23, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  9. ^ "Robert Choate Darnton". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  10. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved April 19, 2022.
  11. ^ Books reveal volumes about times past, Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, Princeton Weekly Bulletin, March 28, 2005.
  12. ^ "Robert Darnton Awarded Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca". Harvard University Library. 2013. Retrieved July 23, 2013.

External links[edit]