May 16, 2016--Society of American Historians Honors Anne Firor Scott And Two Others for Literary Distinction in Historical Writing

Three prizes honoring historical writing of exceptional literary merit are awarded by the Society of American Historians at Columbia University today at its annual dinner at The Century Association in New York City. The Society, founded in 1939 by Allan Nevins, an American journalist and historian, encourages and promotes literary distinction in the writing and presentation of American history. The Society’s members consist of scholars, journalists, documentarians, filmmakers, essayists, novelists, biographers and poets, by invitation only.

The 9th annual Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Prize for distinguished writing in American history of enduring public significance, given jointly with the Roosevelt Institute, is presented to Anne Firor Scott.

Scott is a pioneer in the revolutionary field of American women’s history. Her first book, The Southern Lady, published in 1970, is characterized by her distinctive approach to the study of the past. With the discerning eye of a literary critic and the political scientist’s appreciation for the workings of power, she conducted a reading of women’s letters and diaries at once close and deep to argue that, so far from retreating from the public sphere, Southern women shaped it. She followed this landmark study with a stunning series of monographs, anthologies, and documentary and essay collections, each aimed at incorporating the study of women’s lives and political struggles into the teaching and writing of American history, including Natural Allies, One Half the People (co-authored with Andrew M. Scott), and  Making the Invisible Woman Visible. Late in life, she compiled a selection of letters between Pauli Murray and Caroline Ware, subtitled Forty Years of Letters in Black and White. She was also a consummate editor, applying her keen eye and sharp pen to the work of younger historians. Few American historians have had so powerful an influence on the development of a field.

Born in Montezuma, Georgia, in 1921, Scott graduated from the University of Georgia in 1941, received a Master’s degree in Political Science from Northwestern University in 1944 and completed a Ph.D. from Radcliffe College in 1958. She began teaching at Duke University in 1961.

The award is accepted on Scott’s behalf by her daughter, Rebecca J. Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law at the University of Michigan.

The 59th annual Francis Parkman Prize is awarded to Christine Leigh Heyrman for American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam (Hill and Wang). American Apostles is a work of surpassing interest and power. On the one hand, it vividly evokes the very particular ethos of 19th-century American evangelicals. On the other, it speaks, at least indirectly, to central issues and concerns of our own time. It achieves this bridging feat by way of meticulous research, shrewd analysis, and supple, elegantly evocative prose. Indeed, American Apostles exemplifies all those craft skills that the Parkman Prize is especially meant to honor. 

The story of the first Protestant missions to Muslim populations in the Middle East is inherently compelling, and Heyrman makes the most of it. Both characters and events come alive in her capable hands. Moreover, at a deeper level American Apostles is about the transforming effects of human encounter—the way individuals respond to, and are unsettled by, engagement with a range of very different others. This is its generic significance, and why it matters now. To be sure, it offers no exact template for resolving current confrontations—most obviously, the modern Judeo-Christian West in relation to Islam. But it does advance postures of inquiry, sympathy, and humane understanding that transcend time and place. 

Heyrman is the Robert W. and Shirley P. Grimble Professor of American History at the University of Delaware. She received her B.A. from Macalester College in 1971 and her Ph.D. from Yale in 1977.

The Parkman Prize, named for a 19th-century historian widely honored for his elegant prose style, is awarded annually to a nonfiction book that is distinguished by its literary merit and makes an important contribution to the history of what is now the United States.

The 56th annual Allan Nevins Prize is awarded to Matthew Ryan Kruer for his dissertation, “Our Time of Anarchy”: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Wars of the Susquehannocks, 1675-1682. It is a brilliantly accomplished study of the civil wars that embroiled the inhabitants of eastern North America in the late 17th century. By looking carefully at seven crucial years, Kruer reopens what we thought were settled questions about Bacon’s Rebellion and offers a compelling account of a contested continent. Grief and fear gripped Native American and colonial communities alike, feeding a spiral of violence and disorder, settled only when the Susquehannocks won wars that put a native stamp on a continental order. Kruer’s time span may be short but the stakes of his story—for the history of North America and for American historiography—are enormous. The jurors, Ann Fabian and Fred Logevall, would like to congratulate all the nominees and thank them for wonderful work that left us optimistic about history’s future. 

Kruer earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania under the supervision of Professor Daniel K. Richter, and is now teaching at the University of Oklahoma.

The Allan Nevins Prize, named for the Society’s founder, is awarded annually for the best-written doctoral dissertation on an American subject. The winning dissertation will be published by one of the publisher members of the Society.

At the close of the dinner, Tony Horwitz, an author and journalist, will succeed Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker, to serve as president for the 2016-2017 term. Assuming the vice presidency is Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan.