By Mackey Luffman, History/Social Studies Department Chair
The History/Social Studies Department gives an annual prize for the best historical research papers in World and U.S. history. The award is named in honor of Robert Massie, a Rhodes Scholar, a Pulitzer Prize and Carnegie Medal—winning (and best-selling) author, and 1946 graduate of Peabody Demonstration School.
Massie, who passed away in December, was a unique historian, able to communicate to a broad audience; in the words of one reviewer, he is a “master of historical narrative.” As such he is an excellent role model for USN students as they develop their own voices as young writers.
All students in Modern World History, American History, and AP U.S. History courses write research papers, and their teachers nominate outstanding papers for consideration. Outside judges, including professors at Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky Universities, make the final selections. These evaluators give their time to read the nominated papers and apply the criteria for selection. Those criteria include historical accuracy, clarity of presentation, balanced perspectives, commitment to good scholarship, and original interpretation.
Our judges remarked on the consistently high quality of USN students’ work and the difficulty in selecting the best papers. In light of their professional experiences with undergraduate and graduate writers, that is quite a compliment.
This year’s prize in American History goes to a young woman who wrote on the leadership of Wong Kim Ark in fighting the Chinese Exclusion Acts and other racially discriminatory policies in the early decades of the 20th centuries. Wong’s legal struggles against discrimination led to the landmark Supreme Court Case Wong Kim Ark v. United States (1898) in which the majority of justices ordered that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. were U.S. citizens. Here is one judge’s praise for this research paper:
By juxtaposing the court-based and commerce-based resistance strategies, the author argues convincingly that the Chinese Exclusion era gave rise to arguments, tactics, and a sense of identity and political consciousness that helped define the terms of equality for Chinese and other immigrants as well as for other racial and ethnic groups. The transnational focus is very interesting and shows how repressive U.S. policies actually promoted anti-colonial liberation movements outside the U.S. The legal scholar Sherally Munshi has written similarly about immigrants from India who had fled the British Empire for the U.S., only to get caught up in its web of anti-Asian immigrant policies; many returned to India and helped lead the anti-colonial movements there. The paper is strongly rooted in primary sources with good use of secondary scholarship.
It should come as no surprise that this year’s Massie Prize for American History goes to Erica Friedman '21
. Erica’s paper, "United We Stand: Chinese Triumph over America's Exclusion Era," won the Senior Historical Paper competition for both the regional and statewide Tennessee History Day competition in April.
Want to learn more? Check out Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law by Lucy Salyer.
The faculty nominated 13 sophomore papers for the Modern World History prize, and this competition was close. In identifying this year’s winner, one of the judges wrote:
…The author provides the reader with enough background information in the essay’s first pages to set the stage for the essay’s argument without falling into the often difficult to avoid trap of unnecessary tangents or including unnecessary information. The essay employs an array of sources to make its case, which it does adeptly. The essay does a remarkable job of navigating the time period with which it is concerned and the many groups with interests in South Africa. The writing style of the author is direct, easy to read, clear, and nuanced… In the conclusion, the author presents some final analysis and thoughts on the topic, which is great... Given the context of the times, is it plausible to consider that Britain might have acted in any other way than it did in setting up the government of South Africa?
Please join us in congratulating Erica and William.