Steve Emerson, President, Haverford College
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Mr. le Chancelier, Ladies and Gentleman of the Institut de France,
On behalf of all my colleagues at Haverford College, I bring you warm greetings and felicitations. It is with great pleasure that we, today, return a letter written by Rene Descartes to R.P. Mersenne, to its rightful home in the Library of the Institute, from where it was stolen nearly 200 years ago. As an institution of higher education dedicated to the advanced, interdisciplinary study of the arts, letters and sciences, Haverford College is particularly pleased that our actions will continue the traditions of academic and cultural exchange that embody the very best of our world. We are also grateful to the members of the Institute and its Academies for the great honor of this invitation to this home of learning and scholarship, for your recognition and for the granting of your prize.
We are indeed deeply honored to be guests at the Institute de France. For nearly 400 years, the French Academies and the Institute of France have been the most renowned and respected of the world's learned societies, bringing together scholars in language, humanities, and fine arts, as well as the moral, political and natural sciences. The Academies have served a noble and vital purpose, to stimulate dialogue and interaction between scholars to promote new creative advances, for the benefit of all. We at Haverford College feel truly honored to be in your company.
Haverford College was established in the 1833 to bring the advances of the European Enlightenment, in philosophy, literature, mathematics and sciences, to young men of the Pennsylvania and the other United States. It is just a bit ironic that soon after this date, from 1837-1847, Mr. Guglielmo Libri began his unfortunate escapade to purloin the most treasured manuscripts from the library of the Institute of France. Over the next 160 years, while these treasures were being sold and resold, Haverford College grew and evolved to embody a new principle in higher education, the American liberal arts college. At Haverford, University-age students come to study a broad range of arts, humanities, social and natural sciences. They study in close intellectual and physical proximity to even their most distinguished professors, learning in small seminars and in research laboratories. Studying at an educational institution without masters or PhD students, the undergraduate bachelors students themselves conduct their own individual mentored but independent research theses in their major field, be it philosophy, international politics or astrophysics. They are directly inspired by their faculty just as they inspire them. Indeed, this letter from Rene Descartes was the subject of a scholarly historiographic analysis by a young Haverford College student in 1979, Conrad Turner, who is here with us today.
Most of all, students and professors at Haverford College work with and learn from each other, from around the world and across the range of the academy. Although Haverford is small, with 140 faculty and 1200 students, it's academic horizons extend far and wide. And as a College founded by the Society of Friends, our beliefs in academic and personal integrity and individual responsibility permeate all that we do.
For all these reasons, this opportunity to return this wonderful and historic treasure to the Institute is indeed poignant. First, the Meditations of Rene Descartes are almost certainly the single most influential work of modern philosophy today, and certainly the most frequently studied monograph at Haverford College. Every student and scholar of epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and theology all hear the voice of Rene Descartes quietly thinking to himself in front of his firelight, realizing 'I think, therefore I am.' Second, our faculty always teach our students that the Republic of Letters is truly worldwide, and that there are no boundaries to scholarship and research; thus it is fitting that we, today, establish new ties with our colleague at the Institute and its Academies, ties that we hope to nurture in the years ahead. Finally, it reminds us that knowledge and community are truly dialectic, that everyone benefits when rights are honored, when knowledge is shared and when new friendships are forged.
Therefore, it is with our utmost faith in the international community of scholars and all that it can contribute to peace, justice and the progress of the human spirit that Haverford College is honored and delighted to return this letter from Rene Descartes to the Library of the Institute of France. We hope that its return will trigger a new era of Learning, Discovery and Renewal between Haverford College, the Institute of France and the entire international academy. Please accept this return with our compliments, our gratitude and our fondest hopes.