photo of Samantha Barbas.

Humanities award supports Barbas’ new book project

The National Endowment for the Humanities recognizes public scholars - authors writing about important aspects of culture for a wide spectrum of readers.

In its just-announced round of grants, the NEH has given that designation to UB Law Professor Samantha Barbas – along with a monetary grant to support work on her latest book.

Barbas, who also directs the law school’s Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, is one of 25 public scholars nationwide who will share in $1.4 million in NEH grants. The agency says the awards are intended to “support well-researched books in the humanities aimed at a broad public audience.”

Barbas’ current project looks at the sociolegal history of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 ruling that First Amendment protections of free speech limit public officials’ ability to win a defamation lawsuit. That decision established the “actual malice” test, under which the plaintiff must prove that the defendant knew the statement in question was false or showed reckless disregard for whether it was true.

“It’s an honor to be selected for this award,” Barbas says. “The story of New York Times v. Sullivan, a foundational free speech case with great relevance to contemporary politics and culture, is one that needs to be told. I am excited to be able to use my writing skills and my knowledge of legal history, social history and mass media law to situate the case in its historical and cultural context."  

“We believe strongly in the importance of communicating the insights of the humanities to the broadest possible public, and we are delighted to support your work,” the NEH said in informing Barbas of the grant.

Other scholars receiving this recognition are working on a new biography of the poet Robert Frost; a book of perspectives on World War II as told through the stories of passengers aboard a Pan Am airliner that crashed in 1943; and a history of women who shaped the Transcendentalist movement.

Barbas, who researches and teaches in the areas of legal history, First Amendment law and mass communications law, has published extensively in both scholarly and popular venues. Her books include Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine (Chicago Review Press, 2018), Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle Over Privacy and Press Freedom (Stanford University Press, 2017), Laws of Image: Privacy and Publicity in America (Stanford University Press, 2015), The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (University of California Press 2005), and Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (Palgrave Macmillan 2001). Her latest book, a biography of free speech pioneer and longtime ACLU lawyer Morris Ernst, titled The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst: Free Speech Renegade, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the Spring of 2021.