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2008 Henry Allen Moe Prize

Spring General Meeting
Caroline Humphrey

The 2008 recipient of the American Philosophical Society’s Henry Allen Moe Prize in the Humanities is Caroline Humphrey for her paper “Alternative Freedoms.” It was presented at the Society’s Spring General Meeting in April 2005 and published in the March 2007 issue of the Society's Proceedings.

In the paper Dr. Humphrey uses her experience in Russia to analyze the ideas of freedom held by ordinary Russians and to question the belief of Western leaders that their conceptions of freedom are applicable worldwide. She analyzes the ideas of freedom held by ordinary Russians and identifies three different concepts of freedom that, although derived from the past, were still present under the Soviet regime: svoboda, the individual freedom that came with the acquisition of privileged social status; mir, the freedom enjoyed through membership in one’s community; and volya, the emotional drive for self fulfillment. of these is identical to the Western belief in individual political freedom, though svoboda is the closest. Since the end of the Soviet regime, political and cultural developments have introduced the population to Western ideas of freedom, but ordinary Russians have come to perceive this imported version of svoboda as a cover for new forms of privilege. As they struggle for meaning in their everyday lives, they often turn to the self respect of their volya, their free will. From this analysis Professor Humphrey concludes that our sermons on freedom will ring hollow in regions of the world that differ from us culturally.

Caroline Humphrey is University Professor of Asian Anthropology at Cambridge University, where she has headed the Department of Social Anthropology since 2001. She developed an interest in Russia as an exchange student in anthropology at Moscow State University, studying there in 1966-67 and again in 1974-75. In those years she managed to get permission to study a collective farm in Siberia and became one of a handful of scholars allowed to do research in Russia at that time. This led to her first book Karl Marx Collective: Economy and Society in a Siberian Collective Farm.

Since then Dr. Humphrey has conducted research throughout Asia, including studies of pastoralism and trade in northeastern Nepal; the religion and rituals of the Jains of Rajasthan in western India; and the shamanism of the Daurs in Inner Mongolia. A remarkable social anthropologist with an impressive command of languages, she has achieved an intimate association with and understanding of Russian and central Asian societies.

The co-founder and former director of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, Dr. Humphrey also helped organize "Environmental and Cultural Conservation in Inner Asia", a broad comparative study of the management of pastoral economies in Russia, Mongolia and China. Her many honors include the Staley Prize in Anthropology, the Royal Anthropological Institute's Rivers Memorial Medal and the Heldt Prize. Dr. Humphrey’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism (2002). Her current projects include a book on Mongolian historical consciousness and a collaborative project on post-socialist urban development in Asia. She was elected an international member of the American Philosophical Society in 2004.

The Henry Allen Moe Prize in the Humanities is awarded annually to the author of a paper in the humanities or jurisprudence read at a meeting of the Society. It was established in 1982 by a gift from the widow of Henry Allen Moe to honor the longtime head of the Guggenheim Foundation and president of the American Philosophical Society from 1959 to 1970. It pays particular tribute to his firm commitment to the humanities and those who pursue them.

The selection committee consisted of chairman Richard Herr, professor of history emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley; Christopher Jones, George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics and History at Harvard University; and Elfriede R. Knauer, consulting scholar for the Mediterranean Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.