Historians Romila Thapar, Peter Brown to share $1 mn Kluge Prize

December 5th, 2008 - 12:06 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 4 (IANS) Noted Indian historian Romila Thapar, who created a more “pluralistic view of Indian civilisation”, and Irish historian Peter Brown will share the $1 million 2008 Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity on Dec 10.The sixth and seventh recipients of the prestigious award instituted by the US Library of Congress, Brown and Thapar will each receive half of the $1 million award in a ceremony here Dec 10, the Library announced.

“Thapar created a new and more pluralistic view of Indian civilisation, which had seemed more unitary and unchanging, by scrutinising its evolution over two millennia and searching out its historical consciousness,” it said.

Thapar, 77, Professor Emeritus of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, will be sharing the award with Peter Robert Lamont Brown, 73, a professor of history at Princeton.

Thapar’s 1966 “A History of India” and her 2002 update, “Early India”, were breakthrough works, replacing a static view of Indian traditions with one that featured the dynamic interplay of political, economic, social, religious and other factors, the Library noted.

“The pre-eminent historian of early India, Romila Thapar opened the study of that rich, ancient civilization to habits of inquiry and conceptual frameworks arising out of the modern social sciences,” it said.

“Both Brown and Thapar brought dramatically new perspectives to understanding vast sweeps of geographical territory and a millennium or more of time in, respectively, Europe and the Middle East, and in the Indian subcontinent,” the statement said.

“Brown brought conceptual coherence to the field of late antiquity, looking anew at the end of the Roman Empire, the emergence of Christianity, and the rise of Islam within and beyond the Mediterranean world.”

“The scholarship of both broadened and deepened over time as they marshalled a vast range of evidence from an expanding range of sources and a bewildering array of languages to bring a new comprehensive understanding of large questions of human development,” the Library said

“They addressed their scholarship not only to specialists, but also intentionally shared their insights with broader lay audiences. In re-imagining familiar worlds with eyes unprejudiced by existing paradigms, they each opened large areas of human experience to new historical inquiry,” it said.

Commenting on Thapar, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said: “She has used a wide variety of ancient sources and of languages, and introduced modern social science perspectives to help us better understand the richness and diversity of traditional Indian culture. And she, like Brown, has written a great biography of one of its giants, the Buddhist Emperor Asoka.”

“She’s been a courageous champion, fighting against the politicisation of history by various ideological parties - and that goes for both the extreme Left and the extreme right,” Robert Eric Frykenberg, Professor Emeritus of history and South Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin, said.

“She fought against the skewing of textbooks so that they would be nothing but a government-sponsored propaganda machine.”

Indian studies scholar Indira Peterson has described Thapar as “the pre-eminent interpreter of ancient Indian history today”. Romila is “virtually the only living historian of ancient and pre-modern India who has risen to the rank of world-class historians,” according to Richard Salomon of the University of Washington.

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