Publication Date

December 1, 1997

A munificent gift of $10 million from Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman in honor of Brooke Astor will enable the New York Public Library to set up a new humanities center to foster innovative explorations of society. The center, expected to open in September 1999 in a specially renovated area of the library, will support 15 scholars and writers each year through generous stipends. The initial planning for the center was done with the help of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition to the Cullman gift, the library has raised an additional $1.5 million. Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale has been chosen to be the founding director of the center. Author of several works on modern society including studies of Freud, the Enlightenment, and bourgeois culture, Professor Gay will be closely connected with the development o the center.

In a conversation with Perspectives, Professor Gay said that as yet there has been no clear formulation of the philosophy which will guide the plans of the center. He, and others associated with the center are keeping an open mind, he said. “One of the big questions yet to be resolved for instance,” Gay said, “was whether there should be a common theme for each year.” The primary aims of the center would be to provide freedom of inquiry and also to make a contribution to the community in which it is situated. It will focus on the larger questions, said Gay, such as the place of reason in modern society, and the relation of high culture to politics. He stressed that the fellows will be chosen from people “dealing with words,” and will thus include writers and not only academics.

Announcing the launch of the center, the library's president, Paul LeClerc declared, "Our ambition is to make the library at Fifth Avenue an important new crossroads in the intellectual life of New York." He said that in addition to supporting resident fellows, the new center will also mount a substantive new program of public lectures, readings, and symposia.

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