We are pleased to announce our selection of Ajay K. Mehrotra’s Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929 (Cambridge University Press, 2013) as this year’s winner of the S-USIH annual book award for 2014.
Mehrotra’s important and ambitious book chronicles the early 20th-century transformation in American tax policy and public finance. It analyzes the shift from the nineteenth-century “regime of indirect, hidden, partisan, and regressive taxes” to the “direct, transparent, professionally administered, and progressive tax system” we know today. A book on taxation may well seem a curious choice for an intellectual history prize, but we were struck by how successfully Mehrotra weaves together the intellectual, legal, administrative threads of his argument. Mehrotra takes ideas seriously. He traces legal and administrative change to a prior “conceptual revolution,” wrought primarily by a cohort of professionally trained intellectuals, including Henry Carter Adams, Richard Ely, and Edwin R.A. Seligman. And he shows how notions of economic justice, political obligation, ethical duty, and democratic reciprocity underwrote the new progressive conception of what Mehrotra aptly labels “fiscal citizenship.” He also shows what happened to those ideas as they traveled through a contested political process and were embodied in a complex administrative apparatus with paradoxical and often unintended consequences. Mehrotra’s book is thus a history of ideas in action. It makes a signal contribution to the field by demonstrating how even the most seemingly mundane features of our world have strikingly rich intellectual histories.
For honorable mention we chose Raúl Coronado’s A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Harvard University Press, 2013). This stunningly well-researched and powerfully written book offers an alternative view of American literary and intellectual history, one that attends to voices from San Antonio de Béxar as well as Puritan New England or Jeffersonian Virginia. Through painstaking archival research and sophisticated readings of texts (many of which are helpfully included in the volume’s appendices), Coronado reveals a richly textured and contingent story of the creation of a transnational Latino political tradition and print culture, a story tracing a Spanish-American variation of Enlightenment rooted in Catholic traditions and the colonial experiences of revolution and political
S-USIH congratulates Professors Mehrotra and Coronado on their outstanding contributions to the field of American intellectual history.
The Society for U.S. Intellectual History Book Prize includes a cash award of $250 and a panel at the annual conference dedicated to the award-winning text. Professor Mehrotra will appear at a panel at this year’s conference in Indianapolis.
This year’s Book Prize Committee consisted of Leslie Butler, Dartmouth College (chair); Kevin Schultz, University of Illinois at Chicago; Margaret Abruzzo, University of Alabama. They will join Professor Mehrotra at the panel on his book at this year’s conference. The Society thanks the members of the committee for their outstanding service.