12, 2014. At the 2014 OAH Annual Meeting, OAH President Alan M. Kraut and OAH
President-Elect Patricia Limerick presented Stephen A. Briganti, president and chief executive officer of the
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, with the 2014 Friend of History Award.
The OAH gives the Friend of History Award to an
institution or organization, or an individual working primarily outside college
or university settings, for outstanding support of historical research, the
public presentation of American history, or the work of the OAH.
Stephen A. Briganti is the president and chief
executive officer of the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, one of the
most successful examples of a public/private partnership in US history. In that
capacity he has been a pioneer in crafting a historic restoration and museum
that presents a story of the American past to a broad public audience, while
creating a family history center that links individuals to the history of their
families and their country on an unprecedented scale.
Between 1982 and 1990, Mr. Briganti, formerly an
executive for United Way, brought to fruition the historic restorations of the
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the creation of museums at both sites. The
220,000 square foot Ellis Island museum is the fourth largest museum in New
York City. Its library and archive—the home of rich oral histories and
manuscripts, many collected from those who passed through the island earlier in
their lives—is a key repository for migration scholars. Briganti raised more
than $700 million dollars for these endeavors from corporations, civic
associations, and individual citizens. However, Briganti’s vision went beyond
the museum. Through his leadership, the Foundation opened the American Family
Immigration History Center on Ellis Island in 2001. He raised $30 million for
the center, which makes the information it collected freely available online. In
the first three months of operation, its website www.ellisisland.org received more than
one billion hits.
To supply the historical expertise on the projects,
Briganti recruited a history advisory committee of unpaid volunteers—mostly
professional historians and museum experts—chaired by the late Rudolf J.
Vecoli, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University
of Minnesota, and after 2003, by Alan M. Kraut, professor of history at
American University. From the beginning, Briganti’s vision was a public-private
collaboration that included the academic community and would yield a museum
grounded in state-of-the-art scholarship.
Most recently, Briganti decided to more fully tell the
story of the peopling of the United States by expanding the Ellis Island museum
with the Peopling of America Center, which will cover the period prior to 1892
and post-World War II. For this expansion begun in 2005, he raised in excess of
$20 million. The Pre-Ellis galleries were opened in October 2011 and after the completion
of repairs due to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Post-Ellis galleries
will complete the Center in Spring 2015.
Briganti’s impact on public history has not been
confined to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. In addition to his
commitment to the history of immigration, Briganti has served as a consultant
to such other important history museums as the Holocaust Museum in Washington,
DC, the Motown Museum in Detroit, the Civil War Trust, the National
Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space
Museum, and the American Battle Monuments Commission for the development of the
World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington.
Over the years, Stephen Briganti has been deeply
involved in higher education. From 1998–2008, he served as a trustee of his
alma mater, Butler University, and chaired the board from 1998–2001. Since 2009
he has been trustee emeritus. In 1991 he was awarded an honorary degree of
Juris Doctor from Butler University. In 1990, at the opening of the Ellis
Island Museum, Briganti was named Person of the Week by ABC-TV News with Peter
Although his formal education in history concluded
with his BA degree in history and political science at Butler University,
Stephen Briganti has devoted his career to bringing history to a broader
public. His role has been far more than merely raising money to support
projects. His insistence upon giving historians their independence and freedom
to disagree in the cause of historical discourse is rare among CEOs of powerful
foundations. His trust of and consultation with professional historians makes
him a friend of history, as does his commitment to bringing the past to the
public regardless of how controversial and disputed the lessons may be. Commitment
to historical veracity, boundless energy, and generosity of spirit characterize
all of Stephen Briganti’s endeavors.
ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN HISTORIANS
Founded in 1907, the OAH is
the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the
teaching and study of the American past. The OAH promotes excellence in the
scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and encourages
wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all
practitioners of history. Members in the United States and abroad include
college and university professors, students, precollegiate teachers,
archivists, museum curators, and other public historians employed in government
and the private sector.
For more information about the Friend of History
Award, visit the OAH online at http://www.oah.org/programs/awards/friend-of-history/.