Willrich receives Lawrence W. Levine Award for 'Pox: An American History'

Professor of History Michael Willrich has been selected by the Organization of American Historians (OAH) to receive the 2012 Lawrence W. Levine Award, which is given annually for the best book in American cultural history.

On Saturday, April 21, OAH President Alice Kessler-Harris and OAH President-Elect Albert M. Camarillo presented the award in Milwaukee, Wisc., during the 105th annual meeting of the organization.

The 2012 OAH Lawrence W. Levine Award Committee said "'Pox: An American History (Penguin Group, USA),' is a beautifully written account of the smallpox epidemics that ripped through American cities at the turn of the 20th century. The virus killed relatively few, but as Willrich explains so well, the organized response to those few deaths had lasting effects on culture, law, and politics. The book sets those abstract concerns in compelling descriptions of specific neighborhoods and communities. Willrich’s wonderful ability to account for the ideas and actions of ordinary people and to capture the struggles over power in their daily lives persuaded the committee that the book deserved an award that honored Lawrence Levine. His chapter, “The Antivaccinationists,” demonstrates the value of an intellectual project that deftly weaves together histories of medicine and law to capture the encounter between experts—armed with the authority of the state—and ordinary people determined to resist official intrusion into their lives. Willrich uncovers fundamental questions that lie at the heart of contests over public health. When does the need to protect the health of the community trump the right to 'bodily autonomy'? His account recovers surprising moments in histories of urban politics, eugenics, health activism, legal rights, and the cultural constructions of race and class."

Founded in 1907, the OAH is the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of the American past. The OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.


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