Campus & Community

Radcliffe awards ’07 Fay Prize to two pioneering Harvard seniors

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The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University has named Harvard seniors Rowan W. Dorin, a history concentrator, and Emily Vasiliauskas, a literature concentrator, the winners of its 2007 Captain Jonathan Fay Prize. Both winners were selected for their senior theses, which provide important, new contributions to their respective fields. Dorin was selected for the originality of his research into and findings about the development of trade and trading networks in the medieval Adriatic Sea. Vasiliauskas was selected for her insightful analyses of German poet Paul Célan and his poetry. Drew G. Faust, dean of the Radcliffe Institute and president-elect of Harvard, presented the awards at Radcliffe’s annual Strawberry Tea on May 30 in the Faculty Room of Harvard University Hall.

The Radcliffe Institute awards the Fay Prize to members of Harvard’s graduating class who have produced the most outstanding scholarly work or 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 Radcliffe Institute is privileged to honor these extraordinary young scholars, whose imaginative and well-crafted work makes significant contributions to knowledge,” said Faust. “We look forward to watching them emerge as influential thinkers and scholars in the years to come.”

Dorin’s thesis, titled “Merchants, Mariners, and Micro-Ecologies: Trade Networks in the Adriatic Sea, 1100–1260,” studies the development of trade and trading networks in the medieval Adriatic Sea. He closely examines life and movement on the Adriatic and the connection between its shores. As examples, he considers how winds and currents establish the possibilities and directions of movements; how microecologies determine production; and how patterns of demand turn these products into commodities. Considering the Adriatic Sea a miniature Mediterranean Sea, Dorin details how the mariners and merchants of the cities and towns along the shores circulated the goods and safeguarded their private and collective interests.

Not only is Dorin’s study the first work of its kind on the Adriatic, but it is also based on highly professional research from French, German, Italian, and Latin sources. Many of his sources are unpublished documents he found in Venetian archives.

Nancy F. Cott, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library and the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, was a member of the Fay Prize committee that evaluated Dorin’s thesis.

Cott calls the thesis “a masterful distillation of compendious research.” She continues: “His lucid, vivid, and accessible depiction reanimates the medieval Adriatic as a locus of local, regional, and international trade, a veritable microcosm of the Mediterranean.”

During his time at Harvard, Dorin served as co-prime minister of the Harvard Canadian Club and on the editorial board of Tempus: Harvard College History Review. This summer he will study German in Munich, Germany, and plans to attend a conference in Italy on medieval banking. In the fall he will begin a master’s of philosophy in medieval history at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. His master’s is supported by the Eben Fiske Studentship at Trinity College. Dorin is a native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Vasiliauskas’ thesis, titled “‘Blessed Art Thou, No One’: Ineffability, Pronouns, and the Poetics of Witnessing in Paul Celan,” examines Celan’s poetry, which is often considered complex, yet is also viewed as the most important 20th century verse written in German.

In her thesis, Vasiliauskas analyzes the poetry’s lyrical and rhetorical nuances and studies the traumatic effect the Holocaust had on Celan and his writing. Most remarkable is her examination of the poetry through both Christian negative theology and Jewish mysticism. She turns up striking intercultural connections and also investigates how the poetry is tied to philosophical and religious discourses, such as the work of Martin Heidegger.

Homi Bhabha, senior adviser in the humanities at the Radcliffe Institute, the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Humanities Center at Harvard, was a member of the Fay Prize committee that evaluated Vasiliauskas’ thesis.

“Few critics have elucidated the complexities of Celan’s poetic language with the elegance and intelligence that Emily Vasiliauskas demonstrates,” said Bhabha. “Her inspired acts of interpretation open up new horizons of ethical and aesthetic reflection in the ‘open world’ of Celan’s ineffable poetics.”

Vasiliauskas has served as editor-in-chief of the Gamut, Harvard’s annual poetry journal, and as poetry editor of Persephone, Harvard’s annual undergraduate journal on the classics. She has published numerous poems in the Gamut and Persephone, most recently “Limit” (Persephone, 2006) and “Compline” (Gamut, 2006). Immediately following graduation, Vasiliauskas will prepare her thesis for publication. This fall, she will begin a master’s of philosophy in criticism and culture at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Her master’s is funded by a Marshall Scholarship, which is awarded annually by the British government to approximately 40 young Americans of high ability. Vasiliauskas is a native of Penhook, Va.

The Captain Jonathan Fay Prize was established in 1907 by Joseph Storey Fay in memory of his great-grandfather, Captain Jonathan Fay, and historically has been awarded by Radcliffe College. The Radcliffe Institute carries that tradition forward by convening an interdisciplinary committee to select the winners.