President George W. Bush awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medals for 2007 to Harvard faculty members Richard Pipes and Ruth R. Wisse during a Nov. 15 ceremony at the White House. In total, nine distinguished Americans and one cultural foundation were honored for their exemplary contributions to the humanities and were recognized for their scholarship, preservation efforts, philanthropy, and literary works. Immediately following the ceremony, the medalists, their families, and friends joined the president and first lady Laura Bush for a reception held in their honor.
The National Humanities Medal, first awarded in 1989 as the Charles Frankel Prize, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened U.S. citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities. The Humanities Medal is the signal award for the humanities. Over the past decade, including this year’s recipients, the National Humanities Medal has been awarded to 98 individuals and seven organizations. Among those recognized during this period are Bernard Lewis, Judith “Miss Manners” Martin, Madeleine L’Engle, Harvey Mansfield, and John Updike.
Medal recipients do not compete for this award but are specially selected by the president for their lifelong achievements in their diverse areas of expertise.
The Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of History Emeritus, Pipes was recognized for “peerless scholarship on Russia and Eastern Europe and for a life in service to freedom’s cause.” According to a White House citation, “He has shaped and sharpened our understanding of the eternal contest of liberty and tyranny.” An internationally renowned historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, Pipes — beginning with his 1954 book, “The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923” — has focused on the endurance of Russia’s autocratic traditions. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including “Russian Conservatism and Its Critics,” “Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger,” and “The Russian Revolution.” During the Cold War era, Pipes was chairman of the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Team B,” which was established to review strategic intelligence estimates, and he served as an adviser to President Reagan on Soviet and Eastern European affairs.
Wisse, the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature, was recognized for “scholarship and teaching that have illuminated Jewish literary traditions. Her insightful writings have enriched our understanding of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture in the modern world.” Wisse has written several books on literature, including “The Schlemiel as Modern Hero,” “A Little Love in Big Manhattan: Two Yiddish Poets,” and “The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Literature and Culture.” Her edited works include “The I. L. Peretz Reader” and (with Irving Howe) “The Best of Sholem Aleichem.” A frequent contributor to Commentary magazine and commentator on cultural and political affairs, she has published two political studies: “If I Am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews” and “Jews and Power.”