To bring together scholars who explain historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences

Athan Biss wins the first Jan Lucassen Award: full jury report

The Professor Jan Lucassen Award 1st year:

10th ESSHC conferenceVienna 2014



The award

The award was established by the ESSHC in July 2012 on the occasion of Jan Lucassen’s  mandatory retirement as professor of international and comparative social history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and as senior researcher at the IISH. He happily accepted this present as well as the chair of the jury.

The original award consisted  – as announced in the official conference programme - of a cash prize of € 500 and a one year subscription to the International Review of Social History, available for the winning paper, but recently an anonymous donator enabled the ESSHC to enlarge the sum for this as well as for the upcoming conferences to over € 1500. We will explain in a minute how we have decided to spend this sum.

The Criteria

This award is for “the best paper at the ESSHC by a PhD student”, which should be written in English with a maximum length of  no more than 8,000 words. Besides, the paper should be submitted digitally to the jury, accompanied by a short letter of recommendation by the PhD supervisor by 1 February 2014.

Entry requirements:

1) The paper should be based on original research;

2) It should be innovative;                          

3) It should explicitely strive to explain historical phenomena using the methods of social sciences;

4) Papers with an international comparative approach are preferred.                         

The Jury 2014

Dr. Christine Moll-Murata, Akademische Rätin (Senior Lecturer) Fakultät für Ostasienwissenschaften Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Prof. Dr. Peer Vries, Universitätsprofessor Institut für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte Universität Wien

Prof. Dr. Jan Lucassen, emeritus-professor international and comparative social history Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, honorary fellow IISH (chair)

The work of the jury

The award was advertised as follows: “When you register for the conference you can select the box in the registration form that you wish to enter your paper if accepted in the program, or you can send an e-mail to the conference organizer to apply.” Initially the jury feared to become overwhelmed by papers as there were some 100 pre-registrations for the award but when February 1st 2014 came nearer, it turned out that only 12 papers meeting all formal requirements had to be assessed. If it is accepted that this is the result of a natural pre-selection, the members of the jury can only be grateful.

                   First, the jury members have assessed all 12 papers independently and given a maximum of 5 points for each of the four main criteria. Their individual rankings turned out to be reasonably compatible and by comparing and discussing their results the jury members have come to a unanimous decision. It should be stressed that this is the first time that the prize is awarded, so the entire procedure had to be invented, in which process Els Hiemstra has been a great help, for which the jury would like to thank her.

                   Four papers distinguish themselves from the others, which is not to say that the others are not good or not interesting. They all are in one way or another. However, this is a competition which means comparing and finally  ranking . Its selection of four outstanding papers has induced, or let us say seduced, the jury to award three “Honourable Mentions” of € 200 cash each and a first prize of € 1000 cash plus a one year subscription to the International Review of Social History.

General observations

The jury is happy to see that the chronological, geographical, and thematical scope of the papers is wide, and also that applications study in many different countries:

                    chronologically: one on the Roman period, 4 on the Early-modern Period, 3 on the nineteenth century and 4 on the twentieth century;

                    geographically:  Great Britain 2x, France, Sweden, Spain 4x, Romania, USA 2x, Nigeria, Bengal;

                    thematically:  childhood, sexual offence, patronage, folklore, racial prejudice, monastery foundations, settlement patterns, rural consumption, dock work, juvenile justice, the art of diplomacy, corporatism;

                    the candidates are based at the universities of Paris-Sorbonne, SOAS-London, Exeter, Birkbeck, Saint Andrews, Viterbo, Girona, Cantabria-Santander, Barcelona, Helsinki, Bucharest, Wisconsin-Madison.

Nearly all applicants have sufficiantly met the first two criteria (“The paper should be based on original research”  and “It should be innovative”).  We conclude that the other two criteria offer much more problems to most of the authors. Our request “to explain historical phenomena using the methods of social sciences” is obviously not an easy one. Most candidates, however, do meet that criteria by carefully considering conceptual issues, less so however as regards research methods. Obviously the most difficult requirement is our criteria that “Papers with an international comparative approach are preferred.”

The First Prize

Athan Biss (University of Wisconsin-Madison; supervisor Brenda Gayle Plummer, Merze Tate Professor of History), “The Voice of the Race: The Fisk Jubilee Singers and African American Musical Diplomacy”


This is a well-written paper with a „cause“. The sources it uses are the archival materials of Fisk University, and it can draw on the research on the Fisk Jubilee singers in previous monographs. It is innovative as it offers explanations in the frame of African-American cultural diplomacy, which is usually dated from about hundred years later. It is strong in the international comparative approach, since it describes the reactions to this fundraising and cultural missionary activity in the 1870s in Europe, Australia, and back in the United States. A great contrast becomes visible between generally positive reactions in Europe and negative ones in the USA, in particular in the North-East. In this way it demonstrates that in these years we cannot speak yet of one solid set of white prejudices against the American blacks, and that, maybe surprisingly, the audiences in the states figuring as the champions of the Civil War and the Abolishment movement in the USA contrast in a negative way to Europe. As with all good work, it raises new questions. The jury in particular thinks that there might have been racist undertones as in the European press as well and would like to stimulate more research in the European press as presumably the scrapbooks of the artists contain positive rather than pejorative critiques. One of its members therefore has collected some examples.[2]


The Honourable Mentions

In a strictly alphabetical order the three “Honourable Mentions” are:

1 Temilola Alanamu (University of Exeter; supervisor Dr Stacey Hynd, Lecturer in African History): “Childhood socialisation in nineteenth century Yorubaland”

This paper is based both on previous research and on sources such as folktales and printed missionary materials around 1850. While gender topics in Nigeria have been researched in detail, the new perspective that this paper takes is to study the socialization process of „turning biological males and females into cultural men and women”, drawing on concepts of gender theoreticians such as Judith Butler. As to gendered childhood socialization it comes to the conclusion that „in pre-colonial Yorubaland, gender was not a social category, but multiple, unstable categories, constituted and modified over time and in different contexts“.[1]


2 Guillaume Périssol (Universitë de Paris-Sorbonne; supervisor Jean-Noël Luc, Professeur d’ histoire contemporaine): "The Quality of Mercy is not Strain'd." Ideological and Repressive Modes of Juvenile Justice . A comparison between Paris and Boston in the mid 20th century.

This paper uses new archival material and also draws on existing studies. Its innovative approach is the comparison between the Boston and the Paris juvenile courts. It does apply the methods of social science, using the Althusserian perspective, considering the State as a “repressive and ideological apparatus”. Its international comparative approach is the clearest of all the papers in the contest.

It is a well-written and clearly structured paper, which concludes that the success of the juvenile court since 1900 in the USA and in Western Europe was made possible in particular by an ideology that justified and ensured the smooth workings of probation and its variants. 


3 Valerio Torreggiani (Università della Tuscia at Viterbo; supervisor Luciano Palermo, Full Professor of Economic History):

“Towards an Orderly Society: Corporatist Theories within the British Capitalism after the Great Slump (1931-1934)”

More than the title seems to imply this paper applies a “European transnational perspective” to the study of Corporatism in Britain, in particular by making comparisons with Italy and Russia. It sets well in the field of political economy, but also in  that of social history by showing which individuals and which organizations in the UK showed a particular interest in corporatist planning. Featuring are intriguing groups like those around the dissident Tory magazine Week-End Review and its National Plan (1930-1931) and the Political and Economic Planning (PEP) association and its many subgroups, culminating in the movement for the Self-Governing Industry-Bill (1933-1934) - not very unlike many initiatives we have seen in the recent years to come to a planned capaitalist economy.



[1] Interestingly, the “Story about a woman whose little girl made palm oil” has striking similarities to part of the “Mother Hulda” tale in Grimm’s Fairy Tales – something to be explored, perhaps, in a subsequent article.


[2] The „Musikalisches Wochenblatt“ of 1896, for instance, presents the concerts given in Jan. and Febr. 1896 as „Eigenartig interessante Concerte“, finds their name „reclamehaft“ and states „Die Leistungen dieser [am] Anfang berechtigtem Vorurtheil ausgesetzten Truppe sollen in ihrer Art bedeutend gewesen sein. Besonders werden der Zusammenklang der Stimmen und die Feinheit der dynamischen Schattirungen gerühmt.“ (The accomplishments of this band, which initially met with justified prejudice, is said to have been important. Especially the harmony of the voices and the fineness of the dynamic nuances were praised) (p. 116). Or „Als Curiosa erwähnen wir erstens ein Concert der „Original American Fisk Jubilee Singers“, das uns (16. Jan.) die Bekanntschaft von höchst interessanten und eigenartig wirkenden Negerliedern vermittelte, thörichter Weise aber auch ein Sopransolo enthielt, durch das die schwarze Dame ihre Coloraturfertigkeit und ihre Tüchtigkeit in moderner Sangeskunst beweisen wollte (Rückerts Frühlingslied)“ (p. 467).