The Western History Association announces the Athearn Book Award given annually for a published book on the twentieth-century American West. The award is $500. This award is supported by the friends and students of Professor Athearn and administered by the Western History Association.
Robert G. Athearn (1914-1983) served as the third President of the Western History Association from 1964-1965. He was born in Kremlin, Montana, on August 30, 1914 and attended Northern Montana College and the University of Minnesota, where he completed his Ph.D. in history under the direction of Ernest Staples Osgood in 1947, after serving in the United States Coast Guard from 1942-1945. Athearn’s first and only academic position was at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he remained for the duration of his career. Well-known for the variety of his scholarship, Athearn published books on Thomas Francis Meagher: An Irish Revolutionary in America (1949), British travelers in the West, and William T. Sherman. His book, High Country Empire (1960), was a history of the Northern Plains and the Rocky Mountains and in 1965 was chosen as a White House Library selection. Mid-career, Athearn turned to railroad history, penning a book on the Denver and Rio Grande Western (Rebel of the Rockies) in 1962 and Union Pacific Country (1972), a centennial history of the transcontinental railroad, for which the UP gave Athearn access to previously restricted records. Athearn’s later career was dedicated to the history of forts on the Missouri River, the history of Colorado, his adopted state, and the African-American exodus to Kansas after the Civil War. His last book, The Mythic West (1986), in which he examined the image of the twentieth-century West, was published after his death.
Robert Athearn was, as one biographer noted, “one of the guiding figures” in the Western History Association from the birth of the organization. To honor his contribution, in 1982 the WHA established the Robert G. Athearn Award, given to the author of the best book on the twentieth-century West. That same year his home university awarded Athearn the University of Colorado Medal, recognizing his contributions as both scholar and professor over the breadth of his career. In October of 1983 the WHA honored Athearn as the first recipient of the prize for a “distinguished body of writing” on the history of the American West. Undoubtedly a prolific and influential scholar, Robert Athearn was also a popular teacher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He directed twenty-eight doctoral students to completion over the course of his career. Robert Athearn died on November 13, 1983 in Boulder, Colorado, at the age of 69. (Authored by: Julie Courtwright, Iowa State University) Source: Elliott West, “Robert G. Athearn,” in Historians of the American Frontier: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, John R. Wunder, ed. (Greenwood Press, 1988), 27-45.
2018 | Kelly Lytle Hernández for City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)
2017 | David Wallace Adams for Three Roads to Magdalena: Coming of Age in a Southwest Borderland, 1890-1990 (University Press of Kansas, 2016).
2016 | Rosalyn LaPier and David R.M. Beck for City Indian: Native American Activism in Chicago 1893-1934 (University of Nebraska Press)
2014 | Kate Brown for Plutopia: Nuclear Families in Atomic Cities and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disaster (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
2012 | Andrew H. Fisher for Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity (University of Washington Press, 2010).
2010 | Margaret Jacobs for White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009).
2008 | Elliot R. Barkan for From All Points: America's Immigrant West, 1870s-1952 (Indiana University Press, 2007).
2006 | Brian Masaru Hayashi for Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese American Internment (Princeton University Press, 2004).
2004 | Karen Merrill for Public Lands and Political Meaning: Ranchers, the Government, and the Property Between Them (University of California Press, 2002).
2002 | Lisa McGirr for Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton University Press, 2001).
2000 | James J. Lorence for The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America (University of New Mexico Press, 1999).
1998 | Neil Foley for The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (University of California Press, 1997).
1996 | Judy Yung for Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women in San Francisco (University of California Press, 1995).
1994 | George Sanchez for Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900- 1945 (Oxford University Press).
1992 | Editors Rob Kling, Spencer Olin and Mark Poster for Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange County Since World War I (University of California Press).
1990 | David M. Emmons for Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875-1925 (University of Illinois Press).
1988 | John Thompson for Closing the Frontier: Radical Response in Oklahoma, 1889-1923 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).
1986 | Ferenc Morton Szasz for The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Nuclear Explosion, July 16, 1945 (University of New Mexico Press, 1984 ).
1984 | Lawrence M. Friedman and Robert V. Percival for The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, California, 1870-1910 (University of North Carolina Press, 1981).