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Stanford historian Caroline Winterer receives Smithsonian Ingenuity Award


Stanford historian Caroline Winterer sits on a bench looking at a portrait of Ben Franklin
Stanford historian Caroline Winterer received a Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for her digital analysis of Benjamin Franklin's letters.
Photo Credit: 
Timothy Archibald

When Stanford historian Caroline Winterer was awarded the American Ingenuity Award on November 19, she joined a small, elite group of innovators recognized as revolutionaries in their fields by Smithsonian Magazine, the Smithsonian Institution’s flagship publication.

Winterer won this year’s Historical Scholarship category in recognition of her digital analysis of Benjamin Franklin's social network. The endeavor is part of the Mapping Republic of Letters project in the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford.

The other eight categories included technology, performing and visual arts, natural and physical sciences, education, historical scholarship, social progress, and youth achievement.

A comparison between the correspondence networks of Benjamin Franklin (top) and his near-contemporary, Voltaire (bottom) shows Franklin's network stretched across the Atlantic Ocean, whereas Voltaire's was almost entirely confined to Europe.

Stanford economics professor Caroline Hoxby was also among the winners, receiving the award in the “education” category for her research on college attendance by low-income students.
Previous Ingenuity Award winners include SpaceEx founder and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk, robotics pioneer and Stanford computer science professor Sebastian Thrun, and jazz musician Esperanza Spalding. This year, writer Dave Eggers was the co-recipient of the award in the Social Progress category.
Now in their second year, the Ingenuity Awards were created to recognize “shining achievements” that have a “revolutionary effect on how we perceive the world and how we live," according to Smithsonian Magazine’s editor-in-chief Michael Caruso.
NPR White House Correspondent Ari Shapiro hosted this year’s awards ceremony, held at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.
During her acceptance remarks, Winterer pointed out that social networking is by no means a recent phenomenon.
“The promise of digital technology is that it is going to connect the whole world. I'm here to tell you that the world has already been connected for 300 years,” Winterer said.
Watch Winterer's description of her research, and see if you agree with her suggestions for possible hashtags Ben Franklin would use on his Twitter account.
Media Contact: Corrie Goldman, Director of Humanities Communication:  (650) 724-8156,