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From the News column of the January 2007 Perspectives

Historians Franklin and Yu Receive the Kluge Prize

AHA Staff, January 2007

John Hope Franklin, 91, former AHA president (1979) and emeritus professor of history at Duke University, and Yu Ying-shih, 76, professor of history at Princeton University, have been named as the recipients of the third John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize rewards lifetime achievement in the wide range of disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes, including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics. The prizewinners this year will receive $500,000 each.

In announcing the prizes, The Library of Congress stated “Franklin and Yu have each played a pioneering role in bringing previously neglected, major aspects of American and Chinese history into the mainstream of scholarship and public consciousness of their respective native lands. Both have done demanding work using a wide variety of primary documents and historical approaches. Each has had an enduring impact on both scholarship and his society, and has opened a path for others to find new materials and methodologies for understanding both their and our cultures.”

In his acceptance speech, delivered at the award ceremony on December 5, 2006, Franklin reminisced about the challenges he faced as an African American scholar in researching and writing history; he also reflected on his struggles to understand, among other things, “how it is that we could fight for independence and, at the very same time, use that newly won independence to enslave many who had joined in the fight for independence.” But, he, added, “there were various ways in which a historian could utilize his training and talents to move the nation closer to the principles for which so many made the supreme sacrifice to achieve.”

In his speech, Yu, noted for his many scholarly works on intellectual history of China, described how when he began to study history, China’s past was viewed negatively and in contrast to the progress of civilization and how he gradually realized that “Chinese culture must be clearly recognized as an indigenous tradition with characteristics distinctly its own.” Taking the concept human rights to illustrate his argument, Yu pointed out that although linguistically the term is alien to Confucian discourse, as an idea relating to human dignity, it was very much a part of Chinese tradition and law.“I am more convinced than ever that once Chinese culture returns to the main flow of Tao, the problematique of China versus the West will also come to an end,” he concluded.