Early in his career, Prosser worked with President Brewster to create an innovative new B.A. program at Yale:
His innovative approach to all the tasks he undertook inspired many new initiatives in the evolution of global understanding.
as well as:
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Prosser Gifford ended his distinguished succession of careers as the Director of Scholarly Programs and the Founding Director of The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. Since Prosser held graduate degrees from three different universities in three different subject areas of the human sciences and since he was formerly a Professor of History at Yale, the Dean of Faculty at Amherst College and subsequently the Deputy Director of the Wilson Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C. few individuals in government, academic or public life could have matched his global breath of knowledge, experience and statesmanship.
It was, perhaps, for this reason that Prosser Gifford was chosen to supervise the selection process of the first ever, prestigious Kluge Prize in the humanities awarded by the Library of Congress.
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The influence of Prosser upon his students and colleagues over the decades of his remarkable life is difficult to quantify in any conventional manner because it is impossible to assess the importance of generously shared insight and personal inspiration. By their nature these elusive contributions shared between colleagues and across generations of students were most often conveyed in conversations for which there is no printed record or permanent trace. Nevertheless, these form the kinds of priceless contributions that we all treasure beyond measure.
In Prosser’s case, his former colleagues have sought to embody some of the generosity of spirit and innovative approaches to teaching and learning that characterized Prosser’s life-long contribution wherever he worked. Some have worked with technologies that Prosser could not have known about in the years of his own teaching because they had not yet been invented. Drawing upon the collections of the Library of Congress, for example (where Prosser played an important and innovative role in the final years before his retirement) scholars of African history have now devised techniques that were inspired by Prosser’s earlier scholarship and teaching but can only now be more fully developed with newly available digitization technologies.
Although these techniques are just beginning to evolve, with the example of Prosser Gifford’s life-long work it is possible to imagine how their efforts promise in the coming years to expand the scale and scope of scholarship in African studies and the global humanities around the world.
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Prosser Gifford, founding director of the Library’s Office of Scholarly Programs and of the John W. Kluge Center, died peacefully at his home in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on July 5. He was 91.
Gifford was born in New York City and earned degrees from Yale University (1951), Merton College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar (1953) and Harvard Law School (1956) as well as a Ph.D. in history from Yale University (1964).
He was the first dean of the faculty at Amherst College from 1967 to 1979, where he helped spearhead the opening of admissions to women. He then joined former Oxford colleague James H. Billington as his deputy director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Together, they gathered hundreds of outstanding scholars from around the world to collaborate on research, writing and discussions of cultural, national and world issues.
He served at the Wilson Center from 1980 to 1988. In 1990, Billington, by then the Librarian of Congress, brought Gifford to the Library, where he served as the founding director of the Office of Scholarly Programs. Gifford worked with divisions across the Library to help develop a wide range of intellectual programs, such as conferences, publications and exhibitions, for which he often helped raise the funds.
When Billington secured the Kluge benefaction as part of the celebration of the Library’s 200th anniversary, Gifford delayed his retirement to oversee the launching of the Kluge Center in 2000. Working closely with the Librarian, he directed the design and construction of the facility, conceptualized and initiated the programs for early career fellows and senior scholars, and brought the first scholars to the center, including Jaroslav Pelikan and John Hope Franklin — both of whom were later named Kluge Prize recipients.
He designed and directed the prize, from conceptualization through the solicitation of nominations from across the world, the multilevel selection process and the award celebration. Gifford also created the Kissinger Program that brought some of the best minds in foreign policy to the Library, initiated the program that brings young scholars from British universities to the Library for research and conceived the Library of Congress staff fellowship.
In short, the foundational programs of today’s Kluge Center are the result of Gifford’s vision and indefatigable work. He retired from the Library in 2005. Gifford shared Billington’s love of poetry. The Poetry and Literature Center became part of the Office of Scholarly Programs and then the John W. Kluge Center during Gifford’s tenure. The center flourished under his direction, and Gifford helped the Librarian select the poet laureate of the United States, facilitated the laureate’s programs and secured additional poetry programs, including the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry.
Gifford was an excellent colleague and a gentle and generous spirit, and those who knew him will always smile at the memory of his distinctive laugh, which frequently rang through the Library buildings, announcing his presence.
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