Romila Thapar, Peter Brown get $1 million Kluge Prize

December 12th, 2008 - 1:05 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 11 (IANS) Noted Indian historian Romila Thapar and Irish historian Peter Robert Lamont Brown have been presented a shared $1 million 2008 Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.The two were presented the prestigious award in a ceremony in the Great Hall of the US Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building Wednesday. They are the sixth and seventh recipients since the Prize’s 2003 inception.

Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize rewards lifetime achievement in a wide range of disciplines including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics.

“Peter Brown and Romila Thapar have used practically every known discipline in the humanities and social sciences to create integrative history over vast periods of time and wide expanses of space,” said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, who conferred the award.

“They have used multiple languages and multiple sources, and they have covered parts of the world that are important today, but whose origins we have never understood quite so fully until they took up the pen.”

Both Thapar, 77, and Brown, 73, brought radically new understandings to fields of historical inquiry that cover vast sweeps of geographical territory, close to a millennium or more of time, and a wide array of peoples, languages, and cultures within a specific civilisational context.

Thapar complicated the view of Indian civilisation, which had seemed comparatively unitary and unchanging, by scrutinising its evolution and searching out its historical consciousness.

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 in the civilisational unit of the Mediterranean world.

Accepting the award, Thapar stressed the importance of the humanities. “In redefining civilisation and reconsidering identities, whether of the past or the present, a turn to the human sciences is imperative,” she said.

“Both civilizations and identities can only be explained by reaching out beyond our territorial boundaries and those of our imagination, and if we can bring serious historical inquiry to centre stage.

“The uniqueness of India, it seems to me, has been its plurality of the peoples and cultures that it has knit together over time. The cultivation of this plurality is our common heritage.”

Brown praised the commitment of Kluge and the Library to the humanities. He also touted the study of languages as a pathway to intercultural understanding.

“A more truthful past is our only way to a more nuanced present,” Brown said. “It is up to us to ensure that this richer vision will not remain for us only a poignant glimpse of the world that we have lost.”

Kluge, 94, spoke at the ceremony after a video honouring his vision and philanthropy, in the fifth anniversary year of the prize that bears his name. “The recipients are the important people because they have dedicated their life to their scholarship,” he said.

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