Declining What is Not Offered

The world of book prizes is an interesting one.  Once being nominated for a prize, winning one, or being listed as a finalist was something valued primarily for the honor involved.  Some publishers are very attentive about such things; others are not (I found out about two distinctions awarded my Grant biography by accident).  Most historians, regardless of what they may say, crave this sort of recognition, and most accept it with some degree of modesty and humility (some do not).

For historians, the world of book prizes has been transformed by the influx of money into several prizes, notably the Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  I’ve served on the jury for that prize and I am listed as being on the Advisory Council, although I’m not sure what that means.  My jury service led to an interesting situation: I was on the jury the year The Reconstruction Presidents came out.  Everyone knew that at the time I was asked to serve on the committee: I’m certain of that.  The then director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College addressed the situation in an awkward way, soliciting and distributing ten copies of the title before declaring it ineligible (and promising that it would be considered the following year, a promise I doubt was kept).  So I have in my possession a prize-stamped copy of my own book.  The prize comes with a handsome financial award of $50,000, which has more often than not been divided among a few winners, as well as a nice bust of Mr. Lincoln (which is not divisible).  Sometimes the prize is awarded to books, sometimes to projects, sometimes as a sort of “lifetime achievement” award.  Whatever most people think of the prize, they try to keep their thoughts to themselves, in part because they don’t want to be seen as envious or jealous (although many times they are) and because they don’t want to harm their chances of winning it in the future.  Some of the winners have been easy to figure out, while in other cases there have been questions raised … in whispers, of course.

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Contested History: Waziyata Win and the Dakota

As we approach the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, it is well to remember that other people have different memories and a different sense of the history of that period than those of us who concentrate on the Civil War.  One of those events in the conflict between the Dakota and the people of Minnesota.  For many Civil War historians, this conflict appears only in references to where John Pope was transferred after Second Manassas or in President Abraham Lincoln’s decision to reduce the list of Dakota who were to be executed.  For other people, it is this conflict, and not the Civil War, that is the conflict worth discussing.  Among those people is a former colleague of mine, Waziyata Win.  She continues to be an outspoken voice for justice for her people and she raises questions that everyone might want to consider, even if they don’t agree with her.  As for the claim that she’s a terrorist, well, Waz and I are friends, and her family and my family are friends.  We’ve had our heated arguments, although there aren’t nearly as heated as one might imagine.  Some of them have to do with touch football.  I may not agree with everything she says, but she ought to be heard, and people who read this blog because they have an interest in the Civil War need to hear a different perspective on the events of this period.

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