Harvard Graduate School Honors Daniel Aaron, Nancy Hopkins, and Others

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences confers its 2012 Centennial Medals

Top row, from left: Daniel Aaron and Karl Eikenberry. Bottom row, from left: Nancy Hopkins and Robert Keohane

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal, first awarded in 1989 on the occasion of the school’s hundredth anniversary, honors alumni who have made notable contributions to society that emerged from their graduate study at Harvard. It is the highest honor the Graduate School bestows, and awardees include some of Harvard’s most accomplished alumni. Following are the biographies and citations for this year's honorands, who include a distinguished literary historian, an East Asia specialist, a pioneering female molecular biologist, and a scholar of international relations.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
2012 Centennial Medal Winners

Daniel Aaron, Ph.D. ’43, history of American civilization, Litt.D. '07

To win the Centennial Medal in his 100th year seems only fitting for a man who “literally embodies the American Studies century,” says Werner Sollors of his longtime friend and colleague Daniel Aaron, the Thomas Professor of English and American Literature, Emeritus, at Harvard.

Aaron is “a chief founder of the discipline of American Studies in the United States and abroad,” says Helen Vendler, Ph.D. ’60, the Porter University Professor. He “advocated the scholarly study of American authors at a time when universities still emphasized English and European literature.” As the founding president of the Library of America, he recognized, with his friend Edmund Wilson and others, “the need to create a series that would encompass all of our nation’s best and most significant writing in handsome, enduring volumes intended for a wide public, a kind of American Pléiade,” says Cheryl Hurley, the Library’s president. The Library of America has now published more than 200 authoritative editions of American classics, remaining committed — as Hurley says — “to Dan’s vision of bringing all the richness, the range, and the variety of American writing to readers everywhere.”

[Editor's note: Read Aaron's Harvard honorary-degree citation; news of his National Humanities Medal; and his recollections of being a graduate student at the University.] 

Aaron was the first person to earn a Harvard Ph.D. in the field of the history of American civilization. For seven decades — 30 years at Smith College, and the last 40 years at Harvard — he has been among the country’s foremost scholars of American culture, and his “freshness of spirit, zeal for learning, amazing self-discipline, and generosity of imagination set a daunting standard for all of us,” says Andrew Delbanco, A.B. ’73, Ph.D. ’80, Columbia University’s Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies.

It’s a standard Aaron continues to set: he can still be found daily in his Barker Center office. 

Aaron is the author or editor of more than 40 books, including Writers on the Left: Episodes in American Literary Communism (1961), his classic study of radical American activists and novelists of the 1920s and 30s; The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War (1973), American Notes: Selected Essays (1994), and his captivating 2007 intellectual memoir The Americanist. That book tells of Aaron’s lifelong study of America and tries to explain what it means for him, for us all, to be American. Its many small gems (such as his recollection of grading the English assignments of “an intense hungry-looking fellow” named Norman Mailer) are surrounded by a larger narrative of what Helen Vendler calls “the compelling cultural surge, in our universities, of American history and American literature.” In recounting his own broad engagement across the world — in Austria, Poland, Japan, and elsewhere — Aaron makes “the story of American power one not merely of political strength but also of aesthetic resource.”

Indeed, “he is a model of internationalization and generosity, as the doors to his office have always been open to scholars from anywhere in the world,” says Sollors, the Cabot Professor of English Literature and Professor of African and African American Studies. “He has followers in many countries, including Germany, Poland, and China. My own indebtedness to Dan’s kindness extends to clarifying conversations with him about an incredible array of topics, including pretty much any project I have ever undertaken.” Sollors cites with particular gratitude Aaron’s “still-remarkable essay on ‘The Hyphenate Writer and American Letters,’ that, written nearly half a century ago, long before anyone had heard of ‘Ethnic Studies’ or ‘Multiculturalism,’ set up an agenda for whole fields of endeavor.”

Aaron was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973 and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. And in a capstone achievement, he received the National Humanities Medal in 2010, for his contributions to American literature and culture.

His own place in this culture’s history is secure. And as Andrew Delbanco says, “He will continue to inspire and—by his unmatchable example—to chastise, anyone who seeks to understand America’s past, present, and future.”

Daniel Aaron, centenarian and Centennial Medalist, for a lifetime of scholarship that interprets America to Americans and to the world, we are proud to award you the 2012 Centennial Medal


Karl Eikenberry, A.M. ’81, regional studies–East Asia

Karl Eikenberry, who served as US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, is the “very model of a modern soldier-statesman,” says Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Eikenberry, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is now the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford. He had a 35-year career in the Army, retiring as lieutenant general in 2009 when President Obama tapped him to lead the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.

His involvement with that country has been long and deep. Prior to becoming ambassador, he was deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, where he was heavily involved in the mission in Afghanistan, and regularly traveled there. From 2005 to 2007, he guided military efforts on the ground as commander of US-led coalition forces, and earlier, he served as US security coordinator and chief of the Office of Military Cooperation in Kabul, where he aided efforts to establish and strengthen the Afghan army and police force. “Karl was given extremely difficult assignments in Afghanistan,” says his Harvard mentor Ezra Vogel, Ph.D. ’58, the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences, Emeritus. “He has, under trying circumstances, provided assistance to the Afghan government and Afghan people and leadership to Americans in Afghanistan.”

Over the course of his career, Eikenberry has served in a number of key strategy, policy, and political-military positions, including as director of strategic planning and policy for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, as defense attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing, and as the Defense Department’s senior country director for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mongolia.

In addition to his master’s degree from Harvard, Eikenberry was a National Security Fellow at the Kennedy School. He earned a second master’s in political science from Stanford, and he has an advanced degree in Chinese history from Nanjing University in China. His wide curiosity and astute grasp of the history and culture of the Far East, the Middle East, and international politics are revealed in hisnumerous articles on military training and tactics, history, and Asia-Pacific security issues. When he was appointed ambassador, Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that it was “Karl’s experience as a soldier-scholar” that would prove crucial to fostering the kind of strong civil-military relationship required to enable good governance to take root and hold. Mullen added, “He knows the enemy, he knows our allies, and he knows himself.”

Since leaving Afghanistan, Eikenberry has written and spoken about the ethical dilemmas of war, political use and misuse of military deployment, and the need for military accountability. He has also become a leading voice in a conversation about the relationship between the economy and our national security, arguing that as overseas wars wind down, the biggest threat facing the United States is the country’s growing debt.

Eikenberry’s service and achievements have earned him the highest military and diplomatic honors, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star.

“Integrity, service, honor, commitment, decency, intelligence. Karl Eikenberry embodies what it means to be an American patriot,” says Stephen Krasner, Ph.D. ’72, the Stuart Professor of International Relations at Stanford. “There is only one arena that I know of in which he has not excelled—golf—but that may only be one more indication of his refined judgment.”

Karl Eikenberry, for your wise and brave leadership in enormously challenging times and places, we are proud to award you the 2012 Centennial Medal.

Nancy Hopkins, A.B. ’64, Ph.D. ’71, biochemistry and molecular biology 

Nancy Hopkins, the Amgen, Inc. Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can take great satisfaction in the two revolutions she has helped to lead over the course of her career. One is the revolution in molecular biology, which she knew early on would transform our understanding of the world. And the second is the revolution in the roles and aspirations of women in the academy.

Hopkins started her career in an unusually rarified atmosphere—as a Radcliffe undergraduate in the lab of James Watson, who had just won the Nobel Prize for cracking the structure of DNA. Watson had given a lecture during her junior year, and as Hopkins later recalled, “After an hour, I said, that’s it. That’s going to answer every question I’ve ever had about life.” She marched into Watson’s lab, asked for a job, and got one.

Watson would prove an enduring mentor, encouraging her—at a time when few women were encouraged—to go to graduate school and build a life in science. She worked initially with bacterial viruses, on a successful effort led by former Harvard professor Mark Ptashne to isolate the lambda phage repressor, a protein that controls gene expression. Later, in her highly regarded dissertation work, she demonstrated how the repressor binds to DNA.

She then turned to cancer viruses, following Watson to the newly established Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and then joining MIT’s Center for Cancer Research (now the Koch Institute), where she remains. “As a scientific pioneer,” says her longtime colleague Phillip Sharp, the Nobel Prize–winning Institute Professor at MIT, “she elucidated the mechanisms of how viruses cause leukemia and helped to establish zebrafish as a model genetic organism to study cancer,” along the way gaining membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Her fundamental work on zebrafish has “provided material for generations of scientists to study,” adds Leonard Zon, the Grousbeck Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Stem Cell Program at Children’s Hospital. “Her students have become some of the best investigators in the field. I marvel at her dedication and commitment—it is a lesson to us all on how to become a great scientist.”

Hopkins also used the tools of science—rigorous analysis, a collaborative spirit, and unwavering passion—to “reveal inequities that disadvantaged women and lessened the nation’s and the world’s ability in scientific inquiry,” says Barbara Grosz, the Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard. Hopkins was the prime mover behind the influential “MIT Report on Women in Science,” which in the late 1990s prompted the Institute to acknowledge a pattern of bias and to begin reforms. Other universities soon followed suit, and her advocacy led to a prolonged period of reflection around the country and at Harvard. 

“She doesn’t look like a revolutionary,” says her friend and colleague Lotte Bailyn, Ph.D. ’56, the T. Wilson (1953) Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School. “Nor was she the first person to document the situation of women faculty in science. But she was extraordinarily careful in her research, relentless and fearless, and she wasthe first to get her report noticed, responded to, reported on the front page of the New York Times, and acknowledged at the White House—and so she was the originator of a revolution that continues to this day.”

“It has been awesome to see the numbers—the experimental results as it were—drive her thinking and her action,” says Barbara Grosz. “Recently I have taken special pleasure when those numbers convinced her, finally, that the world had changed, that her work had made a difference.”

Her colleague Phil Sharp says that “Leaders pay a price for blazing a trail, but they live in the success of those who follow. Nancy is a special leader.”

Nancy Hopkins, for opening new paths in cancer research and in the academy, we are proud to award you the 2012 Centennial Medal.


Robert Keohane, Ph.D. ’66, government

Robert Keohane, Professor of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, is among the most influential and respected theorists of world politics and power.

Keohane, who before Princeton taught at Swarthmore, Duke, Stanford, Brandeis, and Harvard, has been president of the American Political Science Association and the International Studies Association “and is consistently ranked as the most influential scholar of international relations by Foreign Policy magazine,” says his longtime friend and collaborator Joseph Nye, Ph.D. ’64, the Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Keohane’s books include After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984), Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World (2002), and Anti-Americanisms in World Politics (2006). He has produced articles, book chapters, and edited volumes too numerous to list, and he has won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order (1989), and the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science (2005), among others. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Keohane is “without a doubt, one of the greatest scholars of international relations of the last half century,” says Benjamin Jerry Cohen, Lancaster Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  “What stands out most for me is the leading role he played as a founding father of the modern field of international political economy. Through his scholarship, his editorship of the influential journal International Organization, and his mentoring of generations of students, he more than anyone defined what the study of international political economy is all about. His contributions as an intellectual pioneer will long be remembered.”

But even more important than his accomplishments and stature, says Nye, “is his role as mentor and friend to so many people in the field.  I consider myself fortunate to be among them.” 

“The intellectual couple Robert Keohane formed with Joe Nye was particularly interesting,” says Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard's Buttenwieser University Professor, who has known and mentored both for decades. “Keohane was, above all, an intellectual; Nye was also a statesman.  They were perfectly complementary.” And Hoffmann adds, “A couple formed by Robert Keohane and his wife Nan has been a model of wisdom, learning, and intelligence.  I am close to the end of my teaching time at Harvard, and one reason for staying so long is my admiration and friendship for Bob and Nan.”

The beneficiaries of Keohane’s mentoring say it has been fundamental to their careers. He was “probably the single most important influence on my professional development,” says David B. Yoffie, Starr Professor of International Business Administration at Harvard Business School. “His penetrating questions, careful scholarship, counterintuitive insights, unending energy, and keen eye towards great problems are the best combination of attributes for an advisor, a co-author, and a great friend.”

“Working with Bob was not easy,” says the 2012 Harvard Commencement speaker, Fareed Zakaria, Ph.D. ’93. “He was friendly and warm, of course, but he was demanding. He set high standards and didn’t discount. He insisted on rigor and research. The result was that I learned to think—systematically and analytically. Thanks, Bob.”

When asked to summarize Keohane’s achievements, his coauthor and longtime colleague Peter Katzenstein, Ph.D. ’73, the Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor at Cornell, composed the following epigram:

Forthright in the search for truth,
Opposed to cant and pomp,
A dedicated mentor of the young,
Nourished by a loving family,
Searching for a better world,
Demanding of himself even more than others,
Bob has always been a great scholar, gifted teacher, and dear friend.

Robert Keohane, for all those reasons, we are proud to award you the 2012 Centennial Medal.


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