The American Historical Association’s James Harvey Robinson Prize is awarded biennially for “the teaching aid that has made the most outstanding contribution to the teaching of history in any field.” In 2022, that prize was awarded to Professor Zachary Schrag for his book, The Princeton Guide to Historical Research. The prize is named in honor of Robinson who served as president of the AHA in 1929 and was considered a pioneer in the field of historical pedagogy and methodology. The prize was created in 1974 and first awarded in 1978.
Published in 2021, The Princeton Guide to Historical Research acknowledges the changing nature of historical study and provides students, scholars, and other professionals with the skills they need to practice the craft of history in the digital age, while maintaining a firm foundation in fundamental values and techniques that have defined historical work for centuries. Schrag’s book helps readers develop good questions, narrow their topics, find sources, craft a narrative, and connect to existing historiography. In the end, The Princeton Guide to Historical Research illustrates that, however varied the subject matter historians pursue, there are basic tools and techniques they all employ commonly.
“The book had two origins,” Schrag said. “First, in the fall of 1998, I was in my third semester as a graduate teaching assistant when a student asked me for help on her essay. I realized that other students were facing the same challenges, so rather than respond just to her, I wrote up some guidance that I could share with everyone in the class.” He then began posting to the website historyprofessor.org and by 2018, Schrag had written 20,000 words on the topic.
Professor Schrag continued: “The book seeks to explain how to conduct historical research. It does so by supplementing my instructions with models drawn from the work of hundreds of historians, living and dead.” He hopes that “this mix of advice and examples shows that the suggestions in the book are not my own fancies, but rather that they reflect the values, conventions, and best practices of my profession. And that they inspire others to take on their own research projects.”
About winning the Robinson Prize, Schrag said, “The book is a love letter to my fellow historians—400 pages of passages and examples of work that I admire.” He concluded, “I would like to think of the award as evidence that I have effectively captured the discipline’s values. Again, I tried to do more than record my own opinions. The book is a work of empirical scholarship, documenting what historians do.”
In receiving this honor, Schrag’s book joins a long line of Robinson prize-winning projects based out of George Mason University. The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media won the Robinson Prize in three consecutive terms, 2004, 2006 and 2008 for History Matters: The U.S. SurveyCourse on the Web, World History Matters, and Historical Thinking Matters, respectively.
Schrag also acknowledges his colleagues and students at George Mason for inspiring his work. It’s “a product of my many years at Mason. My wonderful colleagues in the Department of History and Art History—as well as others in the library and the English Department—have taught me so much about research and writing, and I was glad to have the chance to feature some of their work among my examples, to borrow from their syllabi, and to speak with them about their own research practices.” And, he finished, “more importantly, my students–from first-year undergraduates to doctoral advisees—have asked the questions that the book seeks to answer.”
November 21, 2022