Incoming AHA President William Cronon called last night’s General Meeting at the 126th annual meeting to order with a welcome to the audience and an overview of the night’s events. First up was the presentation of AHA awards for 2011, which are given to “celebrate the work of extraordinary scholars.” Following the award presentation, outgoing AHA President Anthony Grafton delivered his presidential address.
The extraordinary scholars Cronon noted in his opening were recognized last night through AHA book, article, teaching, public history, digital history, equity, mentoring, film, and scholarly distinction awards. See the complete list of 2011 award recipients here, and check the February 2012 issue of Perspectives on History to read more detailed summaries of the prize winners’ work as well as the full citations for the 20 book awards.
It was with great pleasure that the AHA presented its eighth Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Public Service Award to Sandra Day O’Connor, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court. Past recipients of this award, individuals outside the historical profession who have made a significant contribution to the study, teaching, and public understanding of history, include such notable individuals as director Steven Spielberg, Congressman John Lewis, and author Adam Hochschild.
Justice O’Connor was unable to attend the 126th annual meeting, so Judge Diane P. Wood accepted the award on her behalf. Judge Wood noted that as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, “Justice O’Connor is history.” Judge Wood also detailed one of Justice O’Connor’s most recent major contributions to the promotion of history, her educational site icivis.org, “a web-based education project designed to teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy.”
Two other honorees also made remarks at the General Meeting award ceremony. Donald R. Kelly, emeritus of Rutgers University-New Brunswick and winner of the AHA’s 2011 Award for Scholarly Distinction, spoke on book culture in an e-book world. James Billington, Librarian of Congress, was honored with the Troyer Steele Anderson Prize, and he shared news on exciting current and future projects at the Library of Congress, including the primary documents available through the American Memory site, expansion of the annual National Book Festival, unlocking sound recordings through new technology, and newly raised private funds that will allow young scholars to stay in Washington, D.C., at a greatly reduced cost while they conduct research in the Library of Congress.
The General Meeting concluded with the address from outgoing AHA President Anthony Grafton. After stating that spending 2011 as president of the AHA has been “one of the most rewarding years of my life,” Grafton delivered his presidential address: “The Republic of Letters in the American Colonies: Francis Daniel Pastorius Makes a Notebook in the Wilderness.” Grafton’s address offered a fascinating, and often amusing, look at Francis Daniel Pastorius’s method of reading: pen in hand, recording and responding, reading in an active and energetic way (including leaving Latin jokes in the margins or illustrations of books). The full text of Grafton’s presidential address will be available in the February 2012 issue of the American Historical Review.