Campus & Community

Fay Prize awarded

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Radcliffe Institute recognizes outstanding scholarship with award

Harvard University seniors Christopher D. Golden, an environmental conservation concentrator; Liora Russman Halperin, a history and Near Eastern languages and civilizations concentrator; and Peter McMurray, a Slavic studies and classics concentrator, are the winners of the 2005 Captain Jonathan Fay Prize, which is awarded by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust announced the winners – who will graduate from Harvard with bachelor’s degrees on June 9 – at the Radcliffe Institute’s annual Strawberry Tea on Wednesday (June 1).

The Fay Prize honors members of Harvard’s graduating class who have produced the most outstanding imaginative work or piece of original research in any field, which can take the form of a thesis, class research, or creative arts project. Candidates for the Fay Prize are chosen from among the nominees for Harvard College’s Thomas T. Hoopes Prize, awarded annually for outstanding scholarly work or research.

“The three research theses that have captured this year’s Fay Prize are as exceptional as they are diverse,” said Faust. “It is fitting that these projects be honored by the Radcliffe Institute, which pursues work in a similarly wide range of academic endeavors and fields of study.”

Golden’s winning thesis, “Eaten to Endangerment: Mammal Hunting and the Bushmeat Trade in Madagascar’s Makira Forest,” discussed the impact of bushmeat hunting on biodiversity in Madagascar. He spent the summer after his sophomore year working as a research assistant in Ankarafantsika National Park and implementing an environmental education project in Andranofasika. While there, he learned Malagasy and made connections with the local community that proved valuable when he returned to Madagascar the following summer under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society to spend three months in the Makira rainforest conducting research on bushmeat hunting. Golden has since been flown to Madagascar by Conservation International to present his thesis, which was hailed as a great new asset to conservation management.

Glenn Adelson, a teaching fellow in the biology department, nominated Golden’s thesis and said, “Chris’ research is an immediate contribution to the applied field of conservation biology,” and added that Golden’s interdisciplinary approach embodied “a new paradigm for the discipline.” Golden is a native of Cohasset, Mass., and after graduation will spend nine months in Madagascar working as a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Halperin was chosen for her thesis, “The Arabic Question: Zionism and the Politics of Language in Palestine, 1918 – 1948,” in which she explored the political, cultural and historical significance of Arabic-language study for European Jewish immigrants to Palestine, including Zionist teachers, scholars, and political and community leaders. Halperin consulted a variety of archival sources in several languages including Hebrew and Arabic and found that a seemingly obscure corner of Jewish history revealed many important discussions of a crucial period in the history of Zionism.

Peter E. Gordon, John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of History in the Social Sciences, nominated Halperin, and Avi Matalon, assistant professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, was her second adviser. Gordon called Halperin’s work “a remarkably lucid and responsible piece of historical scholarship” that “demonstrates a truly modern approach to Jewish history as a field well integrated into the historical literature of both Europe and the Middle East.” Halperin is a resident of Adams House and a native of Lexington, Mass. She plans to begin a Ph.D. program in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the fall.

McMurray’s winning thesis, “‘The Singer’ After 70 Years: A Dialogic Restudy of Parry, Lord, and the Family Mededovic,” is about oral tradition in the Balkans. McMurray’s project took shape on a research trip to the Balkans when he visited the descendants of Avdo Mededovic, an epic singer chronicled in the work of the Harvard Homeric scholar Milman Parry and his student, Albert Lord, beginning in the 1930s. In his thesis, McMurray discusses authority among performers and scholars and critiques Parry’s model of the “Yugoslav Homer.”

David Elmer, a teaching fellow in the comparative literature department, nominated McMurray’s thesis. He said, “McMurray has resituated the study of oral tradition to take account of the role of the collector” and brought “important new critical insights to the comparative study of oral traditions.” A Pforzheimer House resident, McMurray is a native of Salt Lake City, Utah, and will spend the next year as an associate curator in the Milman Parry Collection in Harvard’s Widener Library, composing music, and likely applying to graduate school.

The Captain Jonathan Fay Prize was established in 1907 by Joseph Storey Fay in memory of his great-grandfather, Captain Jonathan Fay. An interdisciplinary committee, convened by the Radcliffe Institute, made the final selection.