1988 – Richard Neustadt and Ernest May

neustadt.jpgmay.jpgContemporary political leaders should look to the past for help in tackling the world’s problems.

That idea, proposed by two Harvard professors who have both served as top government advisors, claimed the 1988 award.

Richard E. Neustadt, a professor of government at Harvard’s JFK School of Government, and Ernest R. May, a history professor at Harvard, will share the $150,000 prize.

Neustadt, who is widely regarded as an authority on the U.S. presidency, was special advisor to the White House in the Truman, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. May, who is considered an expert on American diplomatic history, has counseled high-level government officials and agencies and is a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

In a 329-page book published in 1986, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers, the pair proposed that lessons from the past can be useful in shaping modern public policy.

Mistakes such as the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War can be avoided in the future if world leaders first examine events from a historical perspective, they contend.

“We were trying to think hard about how people in government have to make major decisions under a lot of pressure and time constraints,” May said. “We wanted to find a way to help them make those decisions a little more reflectively.”

Judges for the award said statesmen, legislators, scholars and the general public could find useful lessons for the future in the work.