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AHA Launches Drive to Endow New Prize for South Asian History

AHA Staff, November 2009

Following a recent Council decision, the AHA has launched a drive to endow a new annual prize—the John F. Richards Prize—for the best book on South Asian history, and invites all interested in the region’s history to contribute generously to the fund.

Historical work on South Asia has become increasingly prominent and remarkably influential in recent decades. Numerous books focused on the region have deeply influenced scholarship on other parts of the world as well because of their innovative methodologies and novel perspectives. South Asian history is now taught at a growing number of colleges and universities worldwide, indicating an increasing interest among students and portending a rising volume of research on it. Nowhere is this truer than in the North American academy.

Historians of South Asia have also been increasingly visible within the American Historical Association with a growing representation at its meetings and in its flagship journal, the American Historical Review. Recognition of South Asian history reached another level in the election of Barbara D. Metcalf, a leading historian of the subcontinent, as the AHA’s president for 2010, and also in the selection of Romila Thapar as the AHA’s Honorary Foreign Member for 2010 (the second South Asian historian to be so honored after Jadunath Sarkar, on whom the Honorary Foreign Membership was conferred in 1952).

The time seemed apt, therefore, to add a new prize dedicated to South Asian history to the list of 20 book prizes currently awarded by the AHA and which now cover every other major world region. The AHA did award a prize—the Watumull Prize—for the best book on the history of India for a few decades, from 1945 through 1982. But, the prize, which had recognized the scholarship of many distinguished historians, became defunct for lack of funds. The initiative to resurrect a prize focused on the region, now more broadly defined as South Asia, came from the newly formed interest group, the Society for Advancing the History of South Asia (http://sahsa.uchicago.edu/). Members of the society, many of whom are also in the campaign committee for the fund (see box at right), decided to name the prize in memory of John Folsom Richards, a distinguished historian noted for his generosity, breadth of vision, and the collegial quality of his many academic ventures at Duke University and elsewhere.

By bringing the best new work to the attention of the scholarly and journalistic community each year, the John F. Richards Prize will reaffirm the significance of South Asian history to the historical discipline as a whole. It will signal the vibrancy of the field; and even as it turns a well-deserved spotlight onto a winner, the prize will also serve to illuminate the work of the many excellent scholars whose collective efforts have advanced South Asian history so notably during the past several decades.

Gifts to the John F. Richards Prize fund of the American Historical Association will be tax-deductible as permitted by law and each will be acknowledged by the chair of the fundraising committee as well as the AHA office. Any member of the campaign committee may be contacted for further information. Checks should be made out to the American Historical Association (with “Richards Prize” in the check’s memo line)and mailed to AHA Richards Prize Fund, P. O. Box 532, Metuchen, NJ 08840-0532, USA, along with the form that can be downloaded from www.historians.org/support/give/Pledge_form.pdf. The form may also be used to make a pledge—payable by December 31, 2010—to the fund.

The John F. Richards Memorial Prize Fund Campaign Committee

Prospective donors may wish to note that the endowment for the prize needs to reach at least $50,000 before the prize can be officially launched.