History professor Michael Willrich named Pulitzer finalist

May 9, 2024

Michael Willrich and the book cover for American Anarchy

Michael Willrich and his book, American Anarchy

Michael Willrich, the Leff Families Professor of History, has been named a finalist for the 2024 Pulitzer Prize for History for “American Anarchy: The Epic Struggle Between Immigrant Radicals and the U.S. Government at the Dawn of the 20th Century.”

The Pulitzer board called the work “a riveting and beautifully written story of how anarchists and their lawyers remade American law, with profound implications for modern jurisprudence.”

“I was beyond thrilled to receive this news. Brandeis has supported my research since I joined the history department nearly a quarter-century ago, and I consider myself lucky to have such wonderful colleagues and students,” Willrich said.

In addition, “American Anarchy” was honored with the Presidents’ Book Prize from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

The book explores the government’s “war on anarchy” in the early 20th century, which branded the ideology an “alien contagion,” according to an essay Willrich penned in Brandeis Magazine based on his research. The government “imposed Draconian restrictions on free speech. They rewrote immigration laws to authorize the exclusion, and ultimately, the mass deportation of noncitizen anarchists, solely because of their beliefs,” Willrich wrote. “In their fight against police repression, censorship, and the government’s deportation campaign, the anarchists helped give rise to the first generation of American cause lawyers.”

Willrich is part of a small history department with a large impact.

David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History, Emeritus, won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his volume, “Washington’s Crossing.”

Several doctoral alumni have also won the Pulitzer Prize for History. Notably, Alan Taylor, GSAS PhD’86, is one of five individuals to win the Pulitzer in history twice, first in 1996 for “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic”; and again in 2014 for “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”

Medical historian David Oshinsky, GSAS PhD’71, won the Pulitzer for his 2005 book, “Polio: An American Story.”

More recently, historian Jack E. Davis, GSAS PhD’94, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for “The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.”

The top honor this year went to a former Brandeis faculty member, historian Jacqueline Jones, who was awarded the Pulitzer for “No Right to an Honest Living: The Struggles of Boston’s Black Workers in the Civil War Era.” Jones, who left Brandeis in 2008, is professor emerita at the University of Texas at Austin.