U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Susan Pearson’s Book Wins Merle Curti Award

The blogging staff of the USIH blog and the members of the S-USIH would like to extend our warmest congratulations to Susan J. Pearson, whose outstanding book The Rights of the Defenseless: Protecting Animals and Children in Gilded Age America (U. of Chicago, 2011) won the 2012 Merle Curti Award in Intellectual History.

The publisher’s website offers a brief summary of this brilliantly-conceived text, and includes a few of the many well-deserved accolades the book garnered from early reviewers.  Here, for example, is Dan Wickberg’s early assessment of  Pearson’s important work:

The Rights of the Defenseless is much more than an examination of the development of specific policies by humane societies, more than a case study of the emergence of Progressive era reform as it applied to the protection of children and animals.  Rather, Susan Pearson uses the very specific concern with these two forms of dependency to explore the definition of rights in liberal discourse; the boundary between person and animal in modern thought and practice; the symbolic configuration of self and society in nineteenth-century political culture; the emergence of a modern mode of linking feeling to reason to action. I do not think it is too much to say that this book will redefine the understanding of the humanitarian sensibility and its place in modern American culture. This is history as an act of the moral imagination in the very best sense.

Pearson’s history is pathbreaking indeed, and we are all pleased that the 2012 Merle Curti Award Committee recognized her truly outstanding achievement. 

Susan was not able to accept this honor in person at the 2012 OAH meeting in Milwaukee. She was busy with another outstanding achievement:  she was having a baby.  So double congratulations to Susan and her lovely family, including especially her husband, Michael Kramer, a frequent, smart, savvy commenter on this blog.  I believe they have set the bar for the Best Week Ever for intellectual historians.

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