On Tuesday, November 14, the National Institute of Social Sciences hosted its annual Gold Medal Dinner at a private club in Manhattan. The event honored Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Ron Chernow, Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert J. Shiller, and Columbia University president emeritus Michael I. Sovern.
The dinner introduced the organization’s new president, Fred Larsen, who succeeded Chauncey G. Olinger, Jr. Mr. Olinger, who led the National Institute for 11 years, was awarded the National Institute’s silver medal in recognition of his many contributions to the organization. Although an injury prevented Mr. Olinger from attending the dinner, he listened to the presentation and thanked the guests via a phone link.
Professor Sovern, who has spent more than half a century at Columbia University as both a teacher and administrator, is credited with helping Columbia heal after the chaos caused by the 1968 student uprising. In his remarks, he noted that this was a difficult time for the liberal arts at American universities.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, himself a Nobel laureate in economics, introduced Professor Shiller, who teaches at Yale, as “one of my great heroes.” Professor Krugman noted “how beautiful, how elegant Bob's work has been over the years.”
In accepting his medal, Professor Shiller, who jointly received the 2013 Nobel Prize in economic sciences, emphasized the “unity of knowledge” and placed his own work into a wider context. “The human mind is trained to understand through narrative,” he said.
Mr. Chernow is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington: A Life:” and “Hamilton,” which inspired the hit Broadway musical, among other works. His most recent biography, “Grant,” which was released in October, has been recognized as one of the most important books of 2017.
Mr. Chernow noted that “we are in a moment in history when we’re at war with ourselves.” Discussing the controversy about Confederate war memorials, he noted that it was “regrettable that southern identity is wrapped up in these symbols” and that “it’s time to take them down.”
One of the country’s oldest honorary societies, the National Institute of Social Sciences presents Gold Medals to those who have distinguished themselves in a wide array of professional fields and have made significant contributions to humanity. It has hosted a Gold Medal dinner annually since 1913. A complete list of previous Gold Medal recipients is available at the National Institute’s website.