Laureates 2015

2015 Past - Retrieving the Past: Historians and Their Sources

Peter R. Brown

Peter Brown 2011- Wikimedia-CommonsProf. Peter R. Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, Professor Emeritus, the Department of History, Princeton University. Prof. Brown is one of the world’s most renowned humanists.

His early work (Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (1967) and Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine (1971) and especially World of Late Antiquity (1971) created an entire new field. “Late antiquity” – the period between the second and the eighth centuries, which had long been a historical gap separating the decline of the Roman Empire from the Middle Ages – came into being as a dynamic and complex period of human history. No longer the Dark Ages, these centuries were recreated by Brown as a time of creativity, struggle, innovation, and emergence of new historical actors, from charismatic holy men to neurotic bishops. His subsequent works on the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the rise of the cult of

Saints, and more recently on understandings of poverty, leadership, and the shifting attitudes to wealthy in the waning centuries of Roman hegemony speak powerfully to readers about the tensions between power, privilege and redemption.

Peter Brown unearthed a unique range of source material in order to depict a “world” between the Iranian plateau and the Bay of Biscay at a time between great empires. The linguistic breadth ranges from expected sources in English, French, Italian, German to those in Syriac, ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Old Norse and more and the types of sources range from classical texts to archaeology. There are few scholars in the world with the skills to tap such a range of sources, and fewer still who can exploit them with such singular and prolific imagination.

Professor Brown has received honorary degrees from numerous universities, including the University of Chicago (1978), Trinity College, Dublin (1990), Wesleyan University (1993), Columbia University (2001), Harvard University (2002), and King's College London (2008). He has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (1982), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1989), and the Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award (2001). In 2008, he won the Kluge Prize of the Library of Congress and in 2011, the Balzan Prize.