2004 Balzan Prize for the Islamic World from the End of the 19th to the End of the 20th Century
Acceptance Speech – Rome 18.11.2004
Members of the Balzan Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am extremely surprised, grateful, and humbled by the receipt of this incredibly generous prize from the Balzan Foundation. The selection of an Islamic field for a prize this year shows an appropriate and timely recognition of the importance of the Muslim world. It also shows that the Foundation appreciates that the understanding of the Muslim world cannot be left to the press, media, and government figures, but must take cognizance of the work of scholars of that world who have spent years studying their languages and cultures. In my country, the press and media have given unusual prominence, when they call on scholars at all, first of all to scholars who support official policies, and when they go beyond these they usually call on scholars who know current events and United States policies very well, but often not their historical and cultural background. The Balzan Foundation Prize terms were formulated very wisely in a way to cover persons who know current events but can also put them in historical and cultural context. I am extremely happy that the Foundation chose to honor me within those parameters.
Another outstanding feature of the Balzan Foundation Prize is that half of it goes to support research projects primarily by young scholars. I have proposed a three-year program for six younger research scholars to come to UCLA for one year, two scholars in each of the three years, which will give them the opportunity to work on books while carrying a very light optional teaching load. These scholars would be chosen from among those with research projects concerning women, gender, and the family. In addition to working on their own books, the scholars would be asked to produce a chapter for a book I will edit on the broader and comparative significance of their research. I also propose a conference on this topic which will use the scholars’ six chapters and add contributions by other scholars for the edited book.
I am extremely regretful that I could not personally come to receive the prize, especially as Italy has always been my favorite country in the world, and the last time I saw the Sistine Chapel it was only beginning to be cleaned and restored. I fell in love with Italy on my first trip there in 1948, studied Italian, and wrote both my undergraduate thesis at Harvard-Radcliffe and my M.A. thesis at Stanford on Italian topics. Both because I thought Italian history would be an overcrowded field and because I was interested in studying a part of the world hitherto barely studied by trained historians, I switched to the Middle East with emphasis on Iran, a country that, like Italy, has a long and impressive cultural history. I spent three months in Italy in 1964 and got to see many of its wonderful cities and rural areas, even those off the usual beaten tourist track. I therefore find it appropriate, however accidental, that my main foreign award is being presented in a country with which I identify so much. I salute the Balzan Foundation for its outstanding prize program, which both honors senior scholars and provides significant funds for upcoming younger scholars to help them in their research in their initial stages.