April 9, 2009
Scandinavian native Pekka Hämäläinen has been awarded the most prestigious prize in American history writing for his revelatory book about the nation-changing power of the Comanche Indians, honed while he was a fellow at the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies in Dedman College at Southern Methodist University.
Hämäläinen’s The Comanche Empire, published by Yale University Press in association with SMU’s Clements Center is a 2009 winner of the Bancroft Prize – one of three awarded annually to authors of books of exceptional merit in American history, biography and diplomacy. The other 2009 winners are Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, and Thomas G. Andrews, assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado, Denver, for Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. The Bancroft Prizes are awarded by the trustees of Columbia University and include stipends of $10,000 to each recipient author.
“The Comanche Empire is a landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way,” said David Weber, Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and director of the Clements Center. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry has called The Comanche Empire “cutting-edge revisionist western history in every way.”
McMurtry wrote in the New York Review of Books that Hämäläinen’s work spelled out a convincing argument that Comanche power is the missing link in the historical sequence that led to Spain’s failure to colonize the interior of North America and, ultimately, the decay of Mexican power in what is now the American Southwest. Citing Hämäläinen’s description of the political, economic and social organization of the Comanches, McMurtry wrote, “Blink a time or two and the reader might forget that the book at hand is about Comanches, rather than Microsoft.”
Hämäläinen, a native of Finland, is associate professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a position he accepted in 2004. He was a fellow at the Clements Center during the 2001-2002 academic year after receiving his Ph.D. in general history at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Hämäläinen notes in the acknowledgment section of The Comanche Empire that the book would not exist without the counsel and encouragement of SMU’s Weber and the Clements Center manuscript workshop that brought together prominent scholars to discuss his project.
Established in fall 1996, the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies in SMU’s Dedman College is internationally known as an incubator for research and writing and an organizer of public programming, all related to the American Southwest. The center annually provides post-doctoral fellowships for scholars studying the American Southwest and the U.S. - Mexico borderlands, allowing them time to focus on additional research and to further develop manuscripts, leading to publication by prestigious presses in cooperation with the center. Fellowships to emerging and senior scholars have resulted in 22 books published by 16 major university presses and seven more Clements Center fellows have publishing contracts pending.
A private university located in the heart of Dallas, SMU is building on the vision of its founders, who imagined a distinguished center for learning emerging from the spirit of the city. Dedman College is the heart of SMU, home to the humanities, social sciences, and natural and mathematical sciences – disciplines fundamental to the traditions of higher education.