Autumn General Meeting
November 9, 2007
The American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History is awarded to Fritz Stern in recognition of his book Five Germanys I Have Known, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2006. “We all seek traces of a tangible past,” Fritz Stern writes in Five Germanys I Have Known, “and we try to fill them with life.” This sentence describes the aspirations both of personal memory and of professional history, and in this incomparable book Stern brings them magisterially together. Because he is such a gifted and disciplined historian, his very memories acquire the quality of evidence, carefully weighed and sifted, never over-interpreted. And because the central thread of memories in the book is his own – from the destruction of the world of European Jewry to the reunification of Germany – history here takes on a discreetly compelling personal accent. When Stern tells us that “the German roads to perdition...were neither accidental nor inevitable,” and that he finally feels, returning as an honored son to his German birthplace now become a part of Poland, that he has been given back a part of his past, we know we are reading not only an elegant memoir and not only a distinguished work of history, but a unique evocation of a haunted and haunting culture, an intimate analysis of that enduring Germany that has so altered our world.
One of America's best known historians, Fritz Stern is University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University, where he has taught since receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1953. The author of books such as The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the German Ideology (1961), The Responsibility of Power (1967) and Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichroder and the Building of the German Empire (1977), Dr. Stern also served on the editorial board of Foreign Affairs for many years. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1988.
The Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History is awarded annually to the author or authors whose book exhibits distinguished work in American or European cultural history. The prize is for books in English by U.S. citizens or permanent residents in this country, published in the United States. Books must be single-authored volumes, not collections of articles or edited texts.
The prize honors historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun, University Professor Emeritus of Columbia University and a member of the American Philosophical Society since 1984. It was established by a gift from Roger Williams, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wyoming, a former student of Professor Barzun.
The selection committee consisted of chairman Donald R. Kelley, James Westfall Thompson Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers University; Glen W. Bowersock, Professor of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study; and Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Professor of English at Princeton University.