The Society for U.S. Intellectual History is pleased to announce the results of the deliberation of this year’s Annual Book Award Committee. The committee, composed of Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin; Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester; and Howard Brick, University of Michigan (chair), awarded this year’s prize for best book of 2014 to Ruben Flores, Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press). The runner-up recognition went to K. Stephen Prince, Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915 (University of North Carolina Press). The committee sends the following statement:
Ruben Flores has written a startlingly original book about border-crossing theorists of education reform in Mexico and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. In Backroads Pragmatists, we see a transnational flow of ideas that was fully bidirectional: Mexico’s postrevolutionary intellectuals and educational officials deployed principles of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education in fashioning a grandly ambitious program of rural schooling and national reconstruction, which subsequently impressed US social scientists and reformers in the Southwest as a model of cultural pluralism to emulate north of the border. Flores’s remarkable cast of characters includes those, such as George I. Sánchez, Marie Hughes, and Ralph L. Beals, who played pioneering roles in the 1940s court suits that ended the segregation of Mexican American students in California and Texas. In a work that represents transnational intellectual history at its best, rooted as deeply in the historiography of modern Mexico as in the US field, Flores reveals an unsuspected case of what might be called reverse modernization. We recognize Backroads Pragmatists as a major, stunning achievement.
The end of the Civil War forecast a reconstruction not only of the Southern economy, polity, and society but also of its identity. Southerners and, not the least, Northerners needed a new story about the South. K. Stephen Prince skillfully reveals and interprets the several stories—Northern and Southern, white and black–that contended for hegemony between 1865 and 1915, finding them at work in, among other places, travel accounts, novels, government documents, speeches, commercial expositions, and performing arts. He compellingly demonstrates how a Jim Crow nation emerged from a battle of narratives in which racial democracy was the loser. Pursuing his stories across a wide cultural spectrum and reading them with an acute sensitivity to their ambiguities and ironies, Prince himself proves a storyteller of the first rank. Stories of the South is an artfully constructed and beautifully written book—a fine addition to the rich literature on the origins of the New South.
The Society will have a panel with the winning author and the committee members at its annual conference in Washington, D.C., October 15-18. We thank the committee members for their thoughtful and careful deliberations, and send our congratulations to Ruben Flores and K. Stephen Prince!