The National Postal Museum Awards for Scholarship in Postal History

The National Postal Museum sponsors biennial prizes for recent scholarship on the history of the postal system in the United States and its territories, and their antecedents. The US Postal Service started these awards in 2007 to honor its first historian, Rita Lloyd Moroney. These prizes – now, the National Postal Museum Awards for Scholarship in Postal History – are designed to recognize scholarship on the history of the American postal system and to raise awareness of the significance of the postal system in American life. Scholarship by graduate students is eligible for a $1,000 award; work by scholars and professionals (faculty members, independent scholars, and public historians) is eligible for a $2,000 award; and public history scholarship presented online is eligible for a $1,000 award.

The museum is pleased to announce that the winners in 2022 are:

Professional prize:

Cameron Blevins. Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

In Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West, Dr.Cameron Blevins engages with disparate and fascinating sources to bring a critical institution, the Post Office, to the fore of nineteenth-century American history, particularly as related to the rapid settlement, conquest, and dispossession across the American West. His narrative smoothly moves from intimate family histories to the larger project of statecraft to demonstrate how individuals were closely tied to the federal government through the US Post Office Department. It also examines the administrative and logistical flexibility central to the Department’s creation of a communications network in the rapidly changing West. The book’s companion website, gossamernetwork.com, visualizes both this rapid change and adaptation through time-lapsed digital maps and the enormous scope of the Department’s presence in comparison to those of other federal agencies. Paper Trails makes a significant contribution to postal history and to American history more broadly.

Dr. Cameron Blevins is an Associate Professor, Clinical Teaching Track in the History Department at the University of Colorado Denver.

Graduate student prize:

Efrat Nechushtai. “Making Messages Private: The Formation of Postal Privacy and Its Relevance for Digital Surveillance.Information & Culture: A Journal of History 54, no. 2 (2019): 133-158.

“Making Messages Private: The Formation of Postal Privacy and Its Relevance for Digital Surveillance” by Dr. Efrat Nechushtai draws on a wide range of understudied primary sources to persuasively demonstrate that the legislative decision to ban the opening of letters, which was written into the Post Office Act of 1792, resulted from political and, more importantly, commercial considerations. These ranged from a belief that a republic should not surveil individuals’ mail to providing merchants with reliable and confidential networks for correspondence. An expectation developed that an individual’s personal communications were confidential. As the author shows, this expectation is being questioned in today’s debates over an individual’s rights to privacy in their digital lives that echo, but also differ in important ways from, discussions of postal confidentiality in the late eighteenth century. This essay is thus a valuable contribution both to historical scholarship and to the urgent present-day debates over the regulation of digital media networks.

Dr. Nechushtai completed her doctorate in communications at Columbia University in 2020 and is now an Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.

 

The National Postal Museum congratulates Dr. Blevins and Dr. Nechushtai and thanks all those who submitted material. Their diverse work advances postal history scholarship in new and exciting directions that demonstrate the centrality to American history of the postal service and the mail it carries.

The National Postal Museum sponsors three biennial prizes for scholarship on the history of the postal system in the United States and its territories, and their antecedents. These prizes - the National Postal Museum Awards for Scholarship in Postal History – are designed to encourage scholarship on the history of the American postal system and to raise awareness of the significance of the postal system in American life. Scholarship by graduate students is eligible for a $1,000 award; scholarship by scholars and professionals (faculty members, independent scholars, and public historians) is eligible for a $2,000 award; and public history scholarship presented online is eligible for a $1,000 award.

Eligibility
The awards are intended for scholarship on any topic on the history of the postal system in America to the present time. Though submissions must be historical in character, they can draw on the methods of disciplines other than history. Comparative or international historical studies are eligible if the American postal system is central to the discussion.

Prizes
Graduate - $1,000 award
Professional - $2,000 award
Digital public history - $1,000 award

The National Postal Museum will publicize the work of the successful awardees.

Graduate Prize: This prize is for scholarship written or published by graduate students. Submissions can take the form of a journal article, a book chapter, a conference paper, a M.A. thesis, or a doctoral dissertation. Submissions are eligible if they were originally written when the author was a student, even if they were subsequently revised for publication. All submissions must include a signed statement from the author attesting to his or her status at the time when the initial work was completed. Individuals may win the graduate prize just once but are eligible to receive the professional prize the next award year or thereafter for a different project.

Professional Prize: This prize is for scholarship published by faculty members, independent scholars, public historians and other non-degree candidates. Submissions may take the form of a journal article, a book chapter, or a book. Professional award winners are not eligible to win in consecutive award years.

Digital Public History Prize: This prize is for a non-commercial interpretative research project, designed primarily for non-academic audiences and presented online and freely available for the general public. Submissions may take the form of one or several of the following: online documentary video, exhibition, multimedia essay, visualization (maps, timelines, etc.), oral histories, podcasts, and/or critical editions of digitized primary source materials.

We advise applicants to ensure that their sites are fully operational once submitted for award consideration. We recommend that applicants submit their best effort and not revise the digital project during the review process.

Restrictions: Submissions must have been published, accepted (in the case of theses and dissertations), or presented (in the case of conference papers), in a four-year period prior to the application deadline. Submissions that do not receive a prize may be re-submitted the following award year if they fall within these restrictions.

Selection Criteria
What is the significance for our understanding of the American postal system and its role in America's past?
How original and strong is the argument?
How imaginative is its use of primary sources (textual, visual and/or material)?
How effectively does it engage existing scholarship?
How well is it written?

For the digital public history award, we will also be asking: how well is the submission presented to engage a general public? Is the entire site openly and freely available and fully accessible to all members of the public? Be sure to clearly define in the cover letter who constitutes the creative and content team to be considered for the award.

The committee reserves the right not to award any prize during an award year if no submissions are deemed suitable.

Deadline and Submission Procedure

Submissions must be sent via email or Dropbox or postmarked by December 3, 2021. If sending physical submissions, please send four copies to Dr. Smith at the address below. No late entries will be accepted.

In a cover letter, authors must attest that the submission meets the eligibility requirements. Submissions will not be returned.

Send all materials and direct any questions to:

Dr. Susan Smith at: smithsu@si.edu

Smithsonian National Postal Museum
2 Massachusetts Ave., NE
PO Box 37012, MRC 570
Washington, DC 20013-7012

Decisions will be announced in April.