The Smithsonian’s 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 U.S. 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. Work by scholars and professionals (faculty members, independent scholars, and public historians) is eligible for a $2,000 award, scholarship by graduate students is eligible for a $1,000 award and public history scholarship presented online is eligible for a $1,000 award.
The 2022 winners are:
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, Cameron Blevins, Ph.D., engages with disparate and fascinating sources to bring a critical institution, the U.S. Post Office, to the fore of 19th-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 U.S. 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 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.
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 Efrat Nechushtai, Ph.D., 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 18th 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.
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 Blevins and 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.
More information is available about the awards.
About the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000 or visit the museum website at postalmuseum.si.edu.
# # #