November 15, 2006 Historians John Hope Franklin, Yu Ying-shih Named Winners of 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity

Press Contact: Matt Raymond (202) 707-0020; Danny Maiello (202) 271-4347
Contact: Visit the Kluge Center Web site. | Remarks of John Hope Franklin | Remarks of Yu Ying-shih

John Hope Franklin, 91, and Yu Ying-shih, 76, have been named the recipients of the third John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize rewards lifetime achievement in the wide range of disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes, including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, criticism in the arts and humanities, and linguistics. Each awardee will receive half of the $1 million prize.

Franklin and Yu have each played a pioneering role in bringing previously neglected, major aspects of American and Chinese history into the mainstream of the scholarship and public consciousness of their respective native lands. Both have done demanding work using a wide variety of primary documents and historical approaches. Each has had an enduring impact on both scholarship and his society, and has opened a path for others to find new materials and methodologies for understanding both their and our cultures.

Yu’s work examines major topics over two millennia of Chinese civilization; Franklin’s work covers three centuries of the history of the United States. Both men are surprisingly modest but have been widely recognized by their professional peers for their work and service and have been embraced by a grateful public.

Commenting on John Hope Franklin, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said: “Dr. Franklin is the leading scholar in the establishment of African-American history as a key area in the professional study of American history in the second half of the 20th century. The transformation he has helped bring about in how we think about American history and society will stand as his lasting intellectual legacy.”

One scholar reviewing nominations for the Kluge Prize wrote of Franklin: “He is arguably the most important African-American historian, and the most important historian of the African-American experience, in the history of the academy.”

Remarking on Yu Ying-shih, Dr. Billington said: “Dr. Yu’s scholarship has been remarkably deep and widespread. His impact on the study of Chinese history, thought and culture has reached across many disciplines, time periods and issues, examining in a profound way major questions and deeper truths about human nature.”

A scholar reviewing Yu’s nomination stated: “The rare distinction of having been elected to full professorships at Harvard, Yale and Princeton undoubtedly confirms the high esteem in which he is held. However, his actual scholarship is a much more important indication of his lifetime achievement, compared to his career successes.”


First awarded in 2003, the Kluge Prize is international; the recipient may be of any nationality, writing in any language. The main criterion for a recipient is deep and sustained intellectual accomplishment in the study of humanity that extends beyond narrow academic disciplines.

The process that led to the selection of Franklin and Yu began in the spring of 2006 with solicitation of nominations from more than 2,000 individuals worldwide: presidents or directors of universities, colleges, and institutions of advanced research; ambassadors; and a wide variety of eminent scholars and intellectuals. Library curators and specialists were also invited to submit nominations, all of which were then reviewed by numerous scholars both inside and outside the Library.

In October 2006 the Librarian of Congress convened a panel of distinguished scholars to review a select group of nine finalists. Their discussion and recommendations provided critical advice to the Librarian as he personally made the final selection.

Franklin and Yu will officially receive the John W. Kluge Prize on Dec. 5, 2006, at the Library of Congress. Each will return to the Library next year to present a scholarly discussion of his body of work.


John Hope Franklin’s career is one of exemplary productivity and far-reaching influence. His contributions range across the genres of non-fiction writing, from scholarly monographs to works of history intended for a non-academic public, to a textbook, a biography, and an autobiography. Long before the “agency” of ordinary Americans became a touchstone of historical writing, Franklin demonstrated that blacks were active agents in shaping their own and the nation’s history. His studies unearthed numerous long-neglected yet indisputably essential parts of the American past. Taken together, they make the point that no account of American history can be complete that does not afford a key place to the conditions and struggles of black Americans for full participation. More than simply redressing the balance or making up for past neglect, his books have challenged historians to rethink how they conceptualize American history as a whole.

Franklin is an Emeritus Professor of History at Duke University. During his 70-year academic career, Franklin taught at a wide range of universities and also played an influential role with such organizations as the Fulbright Board of Foreign Scholarships (when he rallied high-ranking Fulbright alumni abroad to help maintain the program in the face of major cuts), the National Council of the Humanities, and the U.S. Delegation to UNESCO. In 2000, Duke University, with which he has been affiliated since 1982, established The John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies in his honor.

Franklin pioneered the study of the African-American experience. Franklin’s first book, “The Free Negro in North Carolina,” appeared in 1943; but it remains the standard work on its subject and a key reference point for those investigating the status of free African-Americans before the Civil War. At the time he wrote this work, historians were devoting little or no attention to what was then called “Negro history.” Almost no scholarly work existed on antebellum free blacks. Franklin used a wide range of primary materials to present an account of the challenges under which this group lived, but also showed the changes in its status over time.

Franklin next published in 1947 his landmark survey of black history, “From Slavery to Freedom,” which has gone through numerous editions and has introduced hundreds of thousands of students and countless readers outside academia to the African-American past. It ranges widely, from Africa to modern America, and covers politics, culture, economics, and social life. Franklin described the injustices and disabilities under which black Americans suffered. But, as the title itself suggests, the book is a story of progress against heavy odds, not simply a condemnation of American racism. Although numerous surveys of black history have since been published, “From Slavery to Freedom” (revised many times to take account of new scholarship) remains the best single introduction to the subject.

His third book, “The Militant South” (1956), is not a history of African-Americans, but a searching investigation of white Southern culture before the Civil War. In it, Franklin studied the roots of Southern radicalism, and the ways a martial spirit came to pervade Southern society and helped explain the coming of the Civil War.

Franklin’s next two books addressed key moments in American history that profoundly affected the lives of black and white Americans alike. “Reconstruction After the Civil War” (1961) was a central text in the overthrow of the long-dominant Dunning School interpretation that saw the Reconstruction era after the Civil War as one of rampant misgovernment and the granting of democratic rights to the former slaves as a disastrous mistake. Franklin advanced novel interpretations of the period and the actors involved that opened up new lines of inquiry for scholarly understanding.

Two years later, Franklin published “The Emancipation Proclamation” (1965) for the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the document. He carefully examined the path to emancipation and offered a nuanced discussion of Lincoln’s racial views. The hallmark of Lincoln’s presidency, Franklin argued, was his capacity for growth, and the Proclamation – previously belittled by many historians – was the turning point not only in the Civil War but in Lincoln’s own maturation as a statesman.

In the years after “The Emancipation Proclamation,” Franklin contributed to scholarship in new ways, publishing a biography of the pioneering African-American historian George Washington Williams, and collections of his own essays and those of others on the African-American past. In particular, “Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century” (1982), a highly influential collection of essays on modern black leaders edited by Franklin and August Meier, is still widely used in college classrooms. Into his eighties, Franklin continued to publish new and important scholarship. “Runaway Slaves” (1999, with Loren Schweninger) is, remarkably, the first full-scale study of this important piece of antebellum history, which sheds important new light on the Underground Railroad and the motivations and methods of those who sought to escape from slavery. Franklin and Schweninger this year published “In Search of the Promised Land,” a study of a slave family in the Old South.

Professor Franklin’s most significant recent publication is his autobiography, “Mirror to America” (2005). More than just an account of his life’s trajectory, the book is a chronicle of American race relations during the 20th century. He assesses how much has changed and how far the country still must go to achieve racial equality. He also describes how the historical profession itself has changed. His own path-breaking career and scholarship have served as a model for many young historians and have opened up questions still being discussed today.

Franklin has been active in civil rights. In 1949 he served as an expert witness on behalf of the NAACP in Lyman Johnson v. The University of Kentucky, which successfully challenged that state’s “separate but equal” policy in graduate education. In 1953 he was a member of team of scholars and attorneys assembled by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to research the history of the 14th Amendment in preparation for the argument of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1965 he traveled with 30 other historians to Alabama to join Martin Luther King Jr. in the march from Selma to Montgomery. In 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed Franklin as Chairman of the Advisory Board of “One America in the 21st Century,” a national discourse on issues of race.


Yu Ying-shih has been described by his peers as “the greatest Chinese intellectual historian of our generation” and “the most widely read contemporary historian writing in Chinese.” He has written more than 30 books, which span more than 2,000 years of history.

Working deeply with original texts, he has rescued the Confucian heritage from caricature and neglect and has stimulated younger scholars to rediscover the richness and variety of Chinese culture after the ravages of Mao’s “cultural revolution.”

Yu is an Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University. During his academic career, which began in 1962, Yu taught at three Ivy League universities (Princeton, Harvard, and Yale) and the University of Michigan. He also served concurrently as president of New Asia College, Hong Kong, and vice chancellor of Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1973 to 1975. He spent the bulk of his academic career at Princeton, where he taught from 1987 to 2001. In his early 40s, Yu was elected to be a lifetime member in Academia Sinica, the most distinguished academic institution in Taiwan. He was recently elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Yu’s knowledge encompasses nearly the entire span of Chinese history, from early times to the present. His rich, scholarly production can be loosely clustered under three fields, each having a different specialized audience: early and medieval Chinese history; intellectual and cultural history of the later imperial period (the Song, 960-1279; Ming, 1368-1644; and Qing, 1644-1911 dynasties); and studies of intellectuals and intellectual problems in the modern period.

Yu began his scholarly career in the United States concentrating on early and medieval Chinese history. His doctoral dissertation addressed the significant transformation of the ideal of longevity into the idea of immortality, of not dying, a subject of sustained interest in Chinese culture. This study was published as a long article that remains a classic account of a critical shift in religious thinking. In his first book in English, he turned his attention to the Chinese hierarchical view of the world that framed martial and commercial expansion during the Han dynasty (203 B.C. to 220 A.D.)

From the start Yu was recognized as a leading specialist in Han and medieval history, and this recognition has continued throughout his career. Among other works, he was invited to write the Han chapter on the history of food in China; a chapter for the first volume of the prestigious, on-going series “Cambridge History of China”; a chapter on the development of a strong concept of individualism in the Wei-Jin period (220-420 A.D.) for a symposium volume on the notion of individualism in China; and a chapter focusing on the Han period for the one-volume “Cambridge History of Inner Asia.” In 1978 Yu was selected to be a member of the first delegation of American specialists on Chinese studies sent by the National Academy of Sciences as part of an exchange program with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The delegation comprised experts on early China, particularly the Han period, and Yu was the principal author of the delegation’s report on the state of Han studies in China, published in 1981.

Yu also established himself in a second major area of Chinese studies, 17th- and 18th-century intellectual history. In 1970 he published an interpretive article in Chinese, “A Consideration of the History of the Qing Thought from the Perspective of the Development of Song-Ming Confucianism.” This required command of the full span of Confucian thought, from the classical period prior to 231 B.C. up through the 19th century. He showed how the dominant Qing concern for what Yu began to call “intellectualism” evolved out of an anti-intellectualism or anti-rationalism that had prevailed in the 16th century and earlier. In 1972 he published ground-breaking research on the major thinker Fang Yizhi (1611-1671). Asked in the 1990s to write a short historical introduction to the collected works of Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the most influential Confucian after Confucius himself, Yu read so deeply in the source material that he ended by writing a 600-page book that fundamentally reinterpreted this towering figure.

The third academic field in which Yu has made impressive contributions is modern Chinese intellectual history. One of Yu’s themes has been the relationships between intellectuals and the cultural heritage that has been attacked from many quarters at least since the beginning of the May 4th Movement in 1919, when Chinese intellectuals, motivated by resistance to the terms of the Versailles Treaty, ignited a political protest movement that launched the cultural transformation in China.

Three intellectuals born in the 1890s received special attention in books by Yu. In 1984 Yu wrote a reappraisal of Hu Shi (1891-1961), who started his career as a leader in pre-1919 cultural reform but later was strongly criticized, in part, for his scholarship and conservative views. Yu provided a compelling account of Hu’s leading role as an intellectual in turbulent times. In 1991 Yu published a retrospective assessment of Qian Mu (1895-1990), one of the leading historians of the previous generation. The third, Chen Yinke (1890- 1969), was an eminent 20th-century historian of the Tang period (617-906) and the religions of China.

Yu is known not only for his scholarship but also for his sympathy for the democracy movement in mainland China and his support for young refugees who left after the suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square. Despite Yu’s outspoken criticism of Chinese Communist policy, most of his scholarly works have now been published inside Communist China, including a recent 10-volume collection of his Chinese-language works (volumes 1-4 published in 2004 and volumes 5-10 published in 2006 by Guangxi Normal University.) His work is widely read and discussed throughout the Chinese-speaking world, as much on the mainland as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other nations of East Asia.


PR 06-214
ISSN 0731-3527