U.S. Intellectual History Blog

2017 Dorothy Ross Award Winner

We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Dorothy Ross Award for best article published by an emerging scholar goes to Nick Witham for his article, “Popular History, Postwar Liberalism, and the Role of the Public Intellectual in Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition,” which appeared in The Historical Journal in 2016.  In a competitive year, the article stood out for contextualizing Hofstadter’s breakthrough book and enriching our understanding of the postwar intellectual scene.  The full citation from the prize committee appears below.

The Dorothy Ross Prize, first given in 2016, is awarded annually to the best article published the previous year by an emerging scholar, defined as a scholar within 5 years of receiving their PhD.  The prize comes with a $500 cash award and is awarded at the annual conference, held this year Oct. 26-29 in Dallas, Texas.  The Society would like to thank for their dedicated service this year’s award committee, James Kloppenberg (chair), Kimberly Hamlin, and Andrew Preston.


From the Prize Committee:

In this outstanding essay, Witham argues that Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition has been misinterpreted. Although Hofstadter is often placed in the company of “consensus historians,” Witham shows that rather than celebrating the American political tradition, Hofstadter was instead critical of Americans’ excessive individualism and focus on property accumulation. Witham’s essay pays close attention to the New York literary scene as well as developments within historical scholarship. It is contextual as well as textual: Witham examines the conditions of production of the book, including Hofstadter’s political formation in the New Deal era and Knopf’s decision to sponsor the fellowship that Hofstadter was awarded to write a popular history. Witham traces the rise of mass publishing made possible by the “paperback revolution” and the challenge of meeting Dwight Macdonald’s critique of “masscult and midcult.” He shows how Hofstadter worked to meet that challenge by crafting a narrative accessible to a wide range of readers. The American Political Tradition provides a complex and nuanced analysis, laced with irony and tragedy rather than the nostalgia and hero worship characteristic of much popular history. Making excellent use of the correspondence between Hofstadter, his editor, and his publisher, and also examining the reception and distribution of the book, Witham explains why the book was a commercial as well as critical success. This is intellectual history as it should be done. Witham’s article is based on exhaustive research, offers incisive analysis of multiple texts in multiple contexts, and is written with elegance and flair.

Nick Witham, “Popular History, Postwar Liberalism, and the Role of the Public Intellectual in Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition,” The Historical Journal 59, 4 (2016): 1133-55.

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