Peter Gay (1923), USA

Peter Gay received the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for History 1990 for outstanding work in the field of European history. The decision was based on excellent scholarship, but must on the ability to reach a wider audience than that of professional historians only. 

Professor Gay's oeuvre most emphatically meets these criteria. In his work Professor Gay studies history from a social perspective. He has expressed his view of history in some thirty books, but his most significant publications are undoubtedly his volumes on the Enlightenment and the world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie.

The two volumes which appeared in the late 1960s under the general title The Enlightenment: an Interpretation, have become standard works. They are scholarly studies, but are also accessible to a wider public. They are comprehensive and informative. Professor Gay describes the Enlightenment with great admiration for its courage, energy and humanity, although there are certainly also many demonstrable problems and shortcomings. The author's firm belief in progress and learning is unmistakably clear from this work.

During the 1970s Professor Gay turned to the application of psychoanalysis to historical themes. He wrote a large-scale biography of Freud and two volumes on the world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie in the United States and Europe, an undertaking which will be continued in three subsequent volumes. In the two volumes of this ambitious project which have so far appeared, he has been able to present new and invariably interesting information. These books offer an insight into the attitude of the bourgeoisie to sexuality and love which is much more dynamic and attractive than the one previously presented to the general public. In general, the scope, power and elegance which is characteristic of Professor Gay's work command admiration.

About the laureate

38.jpgPeter Gay was born in 1923 in Berlin. He emigrated to the United States in 1939 where he obtained his B.A. at the University of Denver, Colorado in 1946. In 1947 he received his M.A. and in 1951 his Ph.D. from Columbia University. From 1962 to 1969 he worked as Professor of History at Columbia University, occupying the William R. Shepherd Chair from 1967 onwards.

Since 1969 he has worked at Yale University, where he was appointed Professor in Comparative and Intellectual European History. In addition, he held the Durfee Chair and the Sterling Chair of History.

Professor Gay is a member of the American Historical Association, the French Historical Society and Phi Beta Kappa. Furthermore he has held a number of major fellowships.

Professor Gay's many books include studies of the European Enlightment, Voltaire's political thought, the social democratic revisionism of Bernstein, and the culture of the Weimar Republic.