Historians Peter Brown, Romila Thapar Named Recipients of $1 Million 2008 Kluge Prize for Study of Humanity

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Peter Robert Lamont Brown and Romila Thapar will receive the 2008 Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity in a ceremony Dec. 10 at the Library of Congress.

Peter Robert Lamont Brown and Romila Thapar will receive the 2008 Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Humanity in a ceremony Dec. 10 at the Library of Congress. They are the sixth and seventh recipients since the Prizes 2003 inception.

Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize is unique among all international prizes at the $1 million level in rewarding a very wide range of disciplines including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics, as well as a great variety of cultural perspectives in the world. Each awardee will receive half of the $1 million prize.

Both Brown, 73, and Thapar, 77, 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. 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. Thapar created a new and more pluralistic view of Indian civilization, which had seemed more unitary and unchanging, by scrutinizing its evolution over two millennia and searching out its historical consciousness.

The scholarship of both broadened and deepened over time as they marshaled 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. 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.

Commenting on Peter Brown, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said: He is one of the most readable and literary historians of our time, having brought to life both a host of fascinating, little-known people from ordinary life during the first millennium of Christianity, as well as a monumental biography of the most prolific and famous St. Augustine.

One scholar reviewing nominations for the     Kluge Prize wrote: Peter Brown ranks with the greatest historians of the last three centuries. Another said: There are few scholars in the world today who have changed their fields as much as Peter Brown has changed the study of what we used to call ancient and medieval history.

Remarking on Romila Thapar, Dr. 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.

Her prolific writings have set a new course for scholarship about the Indian subcontinent and for the writing of history textbooks in India. One scholarly reviewer said that Thapars rigorous professional standards are cast against a background of her implicit appreciation of an India that accommodates civilizational diversity. Another said: Thapars relentless striving for historical truth-independent of the superimposition of vacillating, fashionable theories of current sociopolitical conditions-is a landmark in the global writing of history.


First awarded in 2003, the Kluge Prize is international; the recipient may be of any nationality, writing in any language. The main criterion for a recipient is deep and sustained intellectual accomplishment in the study of humanity that has an impact beyond narrow academic disciplines.

The process that led to the selection of Brown and Thapar began nearly a year ago. In search of those individuals worldwide who have demonstrated a lifetime of excellence and innovation in the study of the human condition, the Librarian of Congress sought nominations for the Kluge Prize from every corner of the world. Some 3,000 letters requesting nominations went out to a broad range of institutions and individuals knowledgeable about quality scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

The recipients included a broad range of university and college presidents, scholarly associations and research institutes, as well as individual scholars, writers, and selected friends of the Library.

In order to broaden the international pool, the Librarian of Congress also asked the Library’s large number of knowledgeable foreign Area Specialists to provide nominations for the prize based on their areas of expertise and to identify outstanding universities in each country from which nominations were solicited.

The nomination process was also opened to the general public via the Internet. This process resulted in 286 outstanding individuals from 90 nations.

These nominations were reviewed by a committee of the Librarys expert curators and specialists, who then conducted extensive biographical and bibliographical research to gather written critiques, writing samples, and multiple peer reviews for each candidate.

The first review of the most competitive nominees was conducted by the Scholars Council, a select group of preeminent scholars from around the world. Following their guidance, a group of 11 was chosen as finalists. For these 11, Library staff conducted deepened research and presented detailed dossiers on each finalist for a five-member final review panel of top outside scholars. After deliberating as a group at the Library, each member of the panel submitted his or her own detailed individual recommendations to the Librarian, who then made the final selection.

Brown and Thapar, who will officially receive the Kluge Prize on Dec. 10, 2008, at the Library of Congress, will both return to the Library next year to present a scholarly discussion of their respective bodies of work.

For more information on the 2008 recipients and past recipients, visit:



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Eileen Sullivan
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