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Pulitzer-nominated historian of American West to deliver 10th annual W. Bruce Lincoln lecture

September 10, 2013
Richard White

Richard White

Richard White, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian of the American West and MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, will visit NIU to deliver the 10th annual installment of the W. Bruce Lincoln Endowed Lecture Series.

White, who serves as the Margaret Byrne Professor of American History at Stanford University, will begin his talk at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium. Free and open to the public, the lecture is sponsored by the NIU Department of History and the W. Bruce Lincoln Endowment.

White’s presentation, titled “The American Dream: Home, White Manhood, and Cultural Politics during the Gilded Age,” is drawn from his current book project on the American “Gilded Age” from 1865 to 1896. It will be published as part of the Oxford “History of the United States” series.

Says White: “The Gilded Age has particular resonance because in so many ways it is a period that has striking parallels with our own: weak presidencies, mass immigration, deep-seated cultural conflicts, economic transformation, corruption, sweeping technological change, increasing religious diversity and fear of ‘foreign’ religions, growing disparities in wealth and falling standards of living for many Americans.”

White’s areas of expertise include corruption in the Gilded Age, dependency and social change among Native Americans and the history of the environment, including railroads, rivers and lakes. He received a MacArthur “genius grant” in 1995 and was awarded a Mellon Distinguished Professor grant in 2007.

White serves as a faculty co-director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and is principal investigator for “Shaping the West,” a project in the Spatial History Lab at Stanford University, which explores the construction of space by transcontinental railroads during the late 19th century. By connecting data analysis and complex visualization graphical algorithms with traditional historical sources, Professor White’s team examines historic perceptions of space in the newly settled American West.

"Railroaded" book coverWhite’s book, “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America,” won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history and was named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in history. For12 years, White investigated how the creation of the railroad system affected the development of the American West. In his research, he uncovered tales of political intrigue, bribery and outright scandal that resonated with readers.

“The financial crisis and scandals of the last few years were terrible for the country, but good for the book,” remarked White in an interview at Stanford.

“Railroaded” was the second of White’s books to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. An earlier book, his path-breaking “The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region” was also a Pulitzer finalist. That book went on to win the Francis Parkman Prize for the best book on American History, the Albert B. Corey Prize for U.S.-Canadian History, the James A. Rawley Prize for the history of race relations, and the Albert J. Beveridge Award for best English-language book on American History.

“Written over 20 years ago, ‘The Middle Ground’ was a path-breaking book on European-Native American relations in early America and is still the most important book on the subject today,” says Aaron Fogleman, an NIU professor of history. “Virtually every scholar and student of the subject recognizes its importance, and most begin their own studies by directly or indirectly reacting to White’s work.”

The W. Bruce Lincoln Endowed Lecture Series brings to campus distinguished scholars who address topics of interest to both the academic community and the general public. The lectures engage key issues and are often interdisciplinary, in the spirit of Professor Lincoln’s research, writing and teaching.

Lincoln taught Russian history at NIU from 1967 to 1999, while earning recognition as one of America’s leading experts on Russia. The recipient of many national grants and awards, he published 12 widely acclaimed books on Russia, several of them skillfully crafted for general readers.