Stanford President Emeritus Gerhard Casper, the Peter and Helen Bing Professor in Undergraduate Education, professor of law, and FSI Senior Fellow, and James J. Sheehan, the Dickason Professor in the Humanities and a professor of history (emeritus), have been awarded the Great Cross of the Order of Merit with Star (Grosses Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern), among the highest tributes paid to individuals for service to the Federal Republic of Germany. The award is offered for many types of service, including political, economic, social, intellectual, and philanthropic contributions. German President Horst Köhler personally presented the award to Casper and Sheehan in an award ceremony in Berlin on June 8, 2009.
While in Berlin, Casper also delivered the keynote address in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist and explorer. Von Humboldt, the younger brother of the Prussian minister and philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt, traveled extensively in Latin America and published a series of widely read volumes over the ensuing 21 years. A later, five-volume work, Kosmos, attempted to unify the various branches of scientific knowledge. The title of Casper’s address (in translation) was “A Young Man from ‘Ultima Thule’ visits Jefferson: Alexander von Humboldt in Washington.” In medieval geographies, “Ultima Thule” may denote any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world” and was Humboldt’s ironic way of referring to 19th century Prussia.