This press release on the Curti Prize is noteworthy, because it may be the most sophisticated summary of the book I've ever read--little hyperbole and lots of comprehension. Hats off to the prize committee for what may be one of the rarest of things these days: a close read!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Outstanding Historian Honored
Bloomington, IN -- March 17, 2011 – Jefferson Cowie, Cornell University, has been selected by the Organization of American Historians (OAH) to receive the 2011 Merle Curti Award, which is given annually for the best book published in American social or American intellectual history. On Saturday, March 19, OAH President David A. Hollinger and President-Elect Alice Kessler-Harris will present the award in Houston, Texas, during the 104th annual meeting of the organization.
Cowie’s book, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (The New Press) moves nimbly between popular culture, campaign and electoral politics, and social science debates to offer a compelling and devastating account of what happened to the American working class in the 1970s, according to the Merle Curti Award Committee. Cowie tracks major shifts in political and popular public discourse as class structure changed and a new and polarizing language for talking about it emerged. Analyzing the declining influence of organized labor from multiple vantage points, Cowie moves between the lived reality of working-class Americans and perceptions of that experience emanating from Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood. Stayin’ Alive succeeds as an innovative contribution to both social and intellectual history. Drawing on a stunning range of material from popular culture, Cowie takes the reader inside the personal stories of working people, as well as much of the decade’s music, television and film, to allow us to understand the dilemmas of the working class in this pivotal decade. Transcending polarizing historiographical debates about class, gender, and race, Cowie offers a sustained meditation on the tragic irony of historically excluded groups gaining belated access to disappearing jobs. In chronicling the ways in which the “working class”—once understood to be a single entity and a singularly important one—disintegrated, and how the collapse of the New Deal order allowed economic elites nearly uncontested control of civic life, Cowie’s book provides a critical prologue to the politics of public life from the Reagan era onward.
Founded in 1907, OAH is the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of the American past. 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. Members in the U.S. and abroad include college and university professors; students; precollegiate teachers; archivists, museum curators, and other public historians employed in government and the private sector.