Former College President Stephen Emerson ’74 was awarded the Légion d’Honneur last week at a ceremony in New York, alongside economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
At a ceremony presenting the award, ambassador François Delattre celebrated both men as contributors to French-American cultural exchange. Delattre pointed to Emerson’s “moral integrity” in returning to France an stolen letter penned by René Descartes, rediscovered in Haverford’s Special Collections. Emerson returned the letter in June 2010 at a ceremony in Paris, to much fanfare in the French and American press.
In his speech in New York last week, Delattre lauded Emerson for returning the letter and praised Haverford as “the ideal model of an American liberal arts college – a model that France deeply admires.”
From the speech:
This discovery was also an important moment for France:
This letter – among thousands of other treasured documents – had been stolen from the Institut de France in the mid-19th century by an Italian mathematician. This event was called “the Great Robbery.” It was a tragic loss for French intellectual life
We are extremely grateful for this gesture. To return the letter was not an obvious decision. I must say, it was a very noble one as Descartes’ original written letters are very rare and highly solicited.
Today, France has recovered 45 of the 72 Descartes stolen letters, but most of them still remain in private hands.
Thanks to you this artifact of our intellectual history is now available to scholars, scientists and students for the future.
Read Delattre’s remarks in full here.