First Kluge Prize Awarded (December 2003) – Library of Congress Information Bulletin



Leszek Kolakowski, 76, a scholar, philosopher, historian and gifted writer whose works informed and inspired the anti-totalitarian youth movement inside his native Poland, has been awarded the first John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences.

The $1 million Kluge Prize is given by the Library of Congress for lifetime achievement in the humanities and social sciences—areas of scholarship for which there are no Nobel Prizes. These disciplines include philosophy, history, political science, anthropology, sociology, religion, linguistics and criticism in the arts and literature.

“This is the first award of an international prize at the level, in terms of exhaustive inquiry and study as well as financial remuneration, of the Nobel Awards, in an area in which there are no Nobel-type level international prizes for the human sciences,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in announcing the award at a packed news conference on Nov. 5 in the Library’s Whittall Pavilion.

Prosser-Kluge-01The Librarian said he thought it appropriate for this prize to be awarded in America, because American universities “have made a great effort and great investment” in studies of the humanities during the 20th century.


Selection Process
The process that led to the selection of Leszek Kolakowski for the Kluge Prize began more than two years ago with a solicitation of nominations from more than 2,000 individuals worldwide: presidents or directors of universities, colleges and institutions of advanced research, and a wide variety of eminent scholars who were in a position to assess outstanding work in the humanities and social sciences. These nominations and others were reviewed by a number of other scholars. Curatorial specialists in the Library provided bibliographies and materials by and about nominees, and, in September 2002, the Library’s Council of Scholars conducted its review. Outside reviewers versed in particular fields, disciplines, cultures and languages were consulted and wrote evaluations throughout the process.

The final stage in the process was the convening in September 2003 of a special outside panel to review the selected group of 14 candidates for the prize. Five distinguished scholars experienced in a variety of high-quality scholarly selection procedures made up the final review panel. They were:

David Alexander, president emeritus of Pomona College in California, vice president of the Phi Beta Kappa Fellows, and former American secretary to the Rhodes Trust, whose doctorate from Oxford is in religion and philosophy;

Timothy Breen, professor of American history at Northwestern University, who after a doctorate at Yale has held appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J., and at the National Humanities Center in Durham, N.C.;

Bruce Cole, the current chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), who was a distinguished professor of fine arts and of comparative literature at Indiana University in Bloomington; his doctorate is from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania;

Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emerita of history at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, a noted scholar of intellectual and cultural history in the 17th and 18th centuries and a fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society; and

Amartya Sen, master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, England, who will become university professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard in 2004. A Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Sen was educated at Presidency College in Calcutta, India, and at Cambridge.

The discussion and recommendations of members of this panel were a key factor in advising the Librarian concerning his final selection. Billington, the 13th Librarian of Congress, was formerly professor of history at Princeton University, chairman of the board that governs the Fulbright Program and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Prosser Gifford, director of Scholarly Programs at the Library, supervised the selection process for the Kluge Prize. He holds graduate degrees from three different universities in three different subject areas of the human sciences and was formerly dean of faculty at Amherst College and deputy director of the Wilson Center.

[For further information on the life and work of the late Prosser Gifford as a distinguished scholar, a pioneering Africanist and an innovative administrator in both important university and senior government positions see:

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