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2015 Fass-Sandin Prize Winner: Barbara Young Welke

The Fass-Sandin Prize for the best article (in English) on the History of Children and Youth published in 2014 has been presented to Barbara Young Welke, “The Cowboy Suit Tragedy: Spreading Risk, Owning Hazard in the Modern American Consumer Economy,” Journal of American History (June 2014), 97-121. The prize committee, which consisted of Simon Sleight (chair), Corrie Decker, and Corinne T. Field offered the following about Welke’s article:

Showcasing a remarkable depth of historical analysis, Barbara Young Welke offers a compelling – indeed haunting – account of the position of children at the intersection of sentiment, profit, material culture and legal status. This is at heart a powerful family drama: we meet young Tommy McCormack, playing in his new cowboy costume inside his Manhattan apartment one winter’s evening in 1945. A gift received the previous Christmas, the outfit is so inherently flammable (this the result of cost-cutting, wartime contingency and corporate negligence) that a lick of flame causes instant conflagration. Welke assumes the role of a detective revisiting a crime scene in unraveling a tangle of threads that led ultimately to calamity. Tommy’s childhood and the childhoods of the many other victims of the same corporate tailor serve as catalysts for Welke’s substantive arguments on risk and attempted legal redress. Interrogation of disparate archival sources yields revelatory discussion, the analysis structured throughout with poise and precision. Where Viviana Zelizer charted the changing cultural status of childhood through sources including trial records and insurance documents, Welke offers – through the focus on children’s desires and the calculus of loss – a stark account of nothing less than the modern consumer economy. The article demonstrates how the history of children and childhood need never be a niche concern; it can instead speak to diverse audiences and help rework multiple meta-level narratives. 

The committee also recognized an article for Honorable Mention: Emily C. Bruce, ‘“Each word shows how you love me”: The Social Literacy Practice of Children’s Letter Writing (1760-1860)’, Paedagogica Historica, Vol. 50, No. 3 (2014), 247-64.

Congratulations to Barbara and Emily!