June 10, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 18

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    Philosopher, historian, scientist will receive honorary degrees at Friday convocation

    Honorary degrees will be presented to three distinguished scholars, historian Pierre Briant, scientist Daniel Tsui and philosopher Bernard Williams, at the second session of the 456th Convocation to be held at 3 p.m. Friday, June 11.

    Briant, who will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, is the foremost living historian of the Achaemenid Persian empire––the empire founded by Cyrus the Great and toppled by Alexander the Great. The empire brought about political unity and cultural interconnection on a scale that was unparalleled before the Roman Empire, and its involvement with the Greek world had a profound effect on the formation of Greek identity and a Western tradition.

    Briant’s 20 years of work have opened wholly new historical themes and have developed and refined ways of combining the problems and results of many fields such as classical studies, Assyriology, Egyptology, Biblical history and Iranistics.

    Briant, who has crossed disciplinary boundaries, set agendas, raised standards and sharpened methods in his field of study, has changed the terms in which the predecessors and successors of the Achaemenids can be studied.

    Briant was a Visiting Professor at the University in 1996 in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the Oriental Institute.

    His book Histoire de l’ Empire perse de Cyrus Alexandre (1996) was awarded the Roman Ghirshman Prize for books in Iranian studies; selected for a French book club; and made the object of a symposium at the Maison de l’ Orient, Lyon.

    Briant is being honored for his historical studies, with special emphasis on political dissidence and negotiation, military constraint, village-level organization and court ceremony and policy, which have harnessed discontinuous evidence and fine detail to reveal fundamental dynamics of the Achaemenid Persian empire.

    Daniel Tsui (Ph.D.’67), who was one of the winners of the 1998 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on a new type of frictionless fluid made up of electrons, will receive a Doctor of Science degree from the University.

    His work on the collective behavior of sheets of electrons has profoundly influenced the direction taken by condensed matter physics over the past two decades, and it has fostered fundamental connections to plasma physics and modern field theories.

    Tsui’s discovery of the Fractional Quantum Hall Effect opened new experimental and theoretical vistas, and his experiments continue to reveal the essential quantum nature of materials.

    Tsui, professor of electrical engineering at Princeton University, has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1987. He also was the 1984 recipient of the American Physical Society Buckley Prize for Solid State Physics and the 1998 recipient of the Franklin Medal.

    Bernard Williams, the Monroe Deutsch professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley since 1988, will also receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

    A widely and deeply respected philosopher of his generation, Williams specializes in ethics, an area in which he has waged a sustained campaign to defend everyday moral intuitions and practices against what he considers the misrepresentations and distortions imported by simplifying moral theories, such as utilitarianism, Aristotelianism and Kantianism.

    Williams has played an important role in public life, especially in Britain, bringing his intellectual clarity to bear on the treatment of issues of social importance, such as those surrounding pornography.

    A fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, since 1997, Williams also is a fellow of the British Academy, a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an honorary fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, where he received his M.A. degree.