Photograph: Paul O. Kristeller. Photo Credit: Joe Piniero.
Columbia hosted a 90th birthday celebration Tuesday for Professor Paul Oskar Kristeller, the preeminent Renaissance scholar, and honored his lifelong scholarly achievements by presenting to him the Nicholas Murray Butler Medal in Gold.
Kristeller, the F.J.E. Woodbridge Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, was nominated for the award by the Trustees of Columbia, which has been his intellectual home for more than half a century. He taught at the University from 1939 to 1976; his scholarly work has continued to this day.
The Butler Medal, named for Columbia's longtime president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is given every five years to an individual anywhere in the world who has made a distinguished contribution in philosophy or educational theory, practice or administration. It was presented to Kristeller by President Rupp during the birthday celebration in Low Rotunda.
"Paul Kristeller has earned the warm respect of scholars all over the world," said Rupp. "His mastery of ancient texts is unsurpassed, as is his tenacity in tracing the influences of those texts in Medieval and Renaissance thought. He is a scholar of immense knowledge and imposing erudition. We are honored that he has been a Columbian for almost six decades."
Considered by many the world's foremost authority on Renaissance thought and philosophy, Kristeller is the author of more than 200 books and articles. The major project of his career is a six-volume, 4,000-page "field guide" to Italian Renaissance manuscripts and documents in libraries around the world. The descriptive list of uncatalogued or incompletely catalogued manuscripts from 1300 to 1600 is recognized as one of the most important contributions in Medieval and Renaissance study, providing invaluable sources for future scholars. He began collecting information for the catalogue during the 1930s and published the first two volumes, covering Italian libraries only, in 1963 and 1967, respectively. The sixth and final volume of the Iter Italicum, or "Italian journey," was published in 1991. The index for the final volume is being readied for publication.
Kristeller has received many honorary degrees and academic honors from major universities and academic societies in Europe and the United States. He was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, at age 78, then the second oldest recipient of the award. He has served as president of the Renaissance Society of America and the Medieval Academy of America.
Born in Berlin on May 22, 1905, he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1928. Part of the intellectual flight from Nazi terror in Europe, he came to this country in 1939, taught briefly at Yale, and joined the Columbia faculty later that year. He was appointed associate professor in 1948, full professor in 1956 and Woodbridge Professor in 1968. He became professor emeritus in 1973 but continued as a special lecturer until 1976. Columbia awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 1974.