In recognition of the late Ray Allen Billington's leadership in the field of Western history, the Ray Allen Billington Prize was established to recognize the best article (essay of 10,000 words or less) on Western history published in any journal other than the Western Historical Quarterly. The award is $400 to the author and $100 to the journal in which the article was published. The purpose of the award is to encourage authors and editors alike to seek excellence in the field of Western history. To be eligible, an article must deal with a topic relating to the North American West, including Mexico, Canada, and Alaska. Articles will be judged according to (1) the significance of each as a contribution to knowledge; (2) the skill and imaginativeness with which the author has done research in original materials or has reinterpreted some well-known question; (3) the literary quality of the essay.
Nominations must be published in 2020 and may be made only by the editors of the participating publications, but editors may, if they wish, seek the advice of their editorial board or of a special committee. Unless a journal editor notifies you about nominating your work, authors must submit a copy of the journal, an offprint, or a photocopy to each member of the award committee listed below.
-2021 Awards Cycle opens January 25, 2021
-2021 Award Submission (Postmark) Deadline: April 15, 2021
The WHA office sends award notifications in August. View a list of past recipients.
Beth Lew-Williams, Chair
St. Louis University
Ray Allen Billington (1903–1981) Intellectual and cultural historian Ray Allen Billington was the first person to serve as President of the Western History Association. Billington had been President of the American Studies Association and Organization of American Historians (OAH) which still honors him by giving a large cash prize in his name each year for the best book on the American frontier. Ray Allen Billington earned a Ph.D. degree from Harvard University in 1933. He taught at Clark University, Smith College, and Northwestern University over his thirty year career as an academic historian.
Billington was a beloved teacher and scholar who worked with twenty-one scholars who earned PhD’s under his direction. He was the primary author of fifty-six books and pamphlets and the editor of forty-two works. His most influential publications included The Far Western Frontier (1956) and Westward Movement in the United States (1959). Over his career he contributed 191 essays to journals, newspapers, and books and wrote 158 book reviews. Throughout his career Ray Allen Billington worked tirelessly to present papers and books for audiences that were academic and popular. He had the unique ability to bridge the cultural gap on college campuses between administrations and students in the 1960s and between the academic community and the general public. Billington served as President of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association from 1962 to 1963 and helped lead the transformation of that organization into the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in 1965. When the OAH was a new organization Billington argued for an end to racial discrimination in the history profession and in the larger society. When he led the WHA in 1962 his was one of the voices who insisted that professional historians and history buffs both have a place in the Association. Ray Allen Billington died on March 7, 1981 in San Marino, California. He was 77.
Authored by Brian S Collier, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. Sources: Richard Leopold, “Ray Allen Billington,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series 93: (1981) 119-122; Charles S. Peterson, “Speaking for the Past,” The Oxford History of the American West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994): 743-770; Martin Ridge, “Ray Allen Billington, Western History, and American Exceptionalism,” The Pacific Historical Review 56: 4 (1987): 494-511.
2019 | Megan Asaka, “‘40-Acre Smudge’: Race and Erasure in Prewar Seattle,” Pacific Historical Review (Spring 2018)
2018 | Beth Lew-Williams for "'Chinamen' and 'Delinquent Girls': Intimacy, Exclusion and a Search for California's Color Line," Journal of American History (December 2017)
2017 | Marcia Chatelain for "The Miracle of the Golden Arches: Race and Fast Food in Los Angeles," Pacific Historical Review Vol. 85 No. 3
2016 | James D. Drake for "A Divide to Heal the Union: The Creation of the Continental Divide," Pacific Historical Review (November 2015).
2015 | Eric Schlereth for "Privileges of Locomotion: Expatriation and the Politics of Border Crossing," published in by the Journal of American History (March 2014)
2014 | James Tejani for "Dredging the Future: The Destruction of Coastal Estuaries and the Creation of Metropolitan Los Angeles, 1858-1913," Southern California Quarterly (Spring 2014)
2013 | No Award Given
2012 | Kristin Hoganson for “Meat in the Middle: Converging Borderlands in the U.S. Midwest, 1865-1900,” in the Journal of American History (March 2012)
2011 | Stacey Smith for “Remaking Slavery in a Free State: Masters and Slaves in Gold Rush California,” in Pacific Historical Review (February, 2011)
2010 | David Igler for “On Coral Reefs, Volcanoes, Gods, and Patriotic Geology; Or, James Dwight Dana Assembles the Pacific Basin,” in Pacific Historical Review (February 2010)
2009 | Dan Flores for “Bringing Home All The Pretty Horses: The Horse Trade in the Early American West, 1785 – 1825,” in Montana: The Magazine (Summer 2008)
2008 | Francois Ferstenberg for “The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier in Atlantic History,” in American Historical Review (June 2008)
2007 | Paul Andrew Hutton for “Silver Screen Desperado: Billy the Kid in the Movies,” in New Mexico Historical Review (Spring 2007)
2006 | Thomas Andrews for “Made by Toile: Tourism, Labor, and the Construction of the Colorado Landscape, 1858- 1917,”in The Journal of American History (December 2005)
2005 | Michael Magliari for “Free Soil, Unfree Labor: Cave Johnson Couts and the Binding of Indian Workers in California, 1850-1867,” in Pacific Historical Review (August 2004)
2004 | Katherine Benton-Cohen for “Docile Children and Dangerous Revolutionaries: The Racial Hierarchy of Manliness and the Bisbee Deportation of 1917,” in Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies (2003)
2003 | Thomas A. Krainz for “Transforming the Progressive Era Welfare State: Activists for the Blind and Blind Benefits,” in Journal of Policy History (2003)
2002 | Marcus Hall for “Repairing Mountains: Restoration, Ecology and Wilderness in Twentieth-Century Utah,” in Environmental History (October 2001)
2001 | Scott Zesch for “The Two Captivities of Adolph Korn,” in Southwestern Historical Quarterly (April 2001)
2000 | David Igler for “The Industrial Far West: Region and Nation in the Late Nineteenth Century,” in Pacific Historical Review (May 2000)
1999 | Marshall E. Bowen for “Crops, Critters, and Calamity: The Failure of Dry Farming in Utah‘s Escalante Desert, 1913- 1918,” in Agricultural History (Winter 1999)
1998 | Paul Sabin for “Home and Abroad: The Two Wests‘ of Twentieth-Century United States History,” in Pacific Historical Review (August 1997)
1997 | Gerald Zahavi for “‘Who‘s Going to Dance With Somebody Who Calls You a Mainstreeter‘: Communism, Culture, and Community in Sheridan County, Montana, 1918-1934,” in Great Plains Quarterly (Fall 1996)
1996 | John D. Morton for “Magnificent New World: Thomas Hart Benton‘s Westward Vision Reconsidered,” in Missouri Historical Review (April 1996)
1995 | Peter Reich for “Mission Revival Jurisprudence: State Courts and Hispanic Water Law Since 1850,” in Washington Law Review (October 1994)
1994 | Donald C. Jackson for “Engineering in the Progressive Era: A New Look at Frederick Haynes Newell and the U.S. Reclamation Service,” in Technology and Culture (July 1993)
1993 | Ramon A. Gutierrez for “Community, Patriarchy, and Individualism: The Politics of Chicano History and the Dream of Equality,” in American Quarterly (March 1993)
1992 | F. Todd Smith for “The Kadohadacho Indians and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1803-1815,” in Southwestern Historical Quarterly (October 1991)
1991 | Martin Ridge for “The Life of an Idea: The Significance of Frederick Jackson Turner‘s Frontier Thesis,” in Montana: The Magazine of Western History (Winter 1991)
1990 | Gilbert Fite for “The Transformation of South Dakota Agriculture: The Effects of Mechanization, 1939-1964,” in South Dakota History (Fall, 1989)
1989 | Frederick Luebke for “Time, Place, and Culture in Nebraska History,” in Nebraska History (Winter 1988)
1988 | Arrell Morgan Gibson for “The Centennial Legacy of the General Allotment Act,” in Chronicles of Oklahoma (Fall 1987)
1987 | Daniel H. Usner, Jr. for “The Frontier Exchange Economy of the Lower Mississippi valley in the Eighteenth Century,” in William & Mary Quarterly (April 1987)
1986 | Richard Guy Wilson for “Machine-Age Iconography in the American West: The Design of Hoover Dam,” in Pacific Historical Review (November 1985)
1985 | Dan L. Flores for “The Ecology of the Red River in 1806: Peter Custis and Early Southwestern Natural History,” in Southwestern Historical Quarterly (July 1984)
1984 | William T. Anderson for “The Literary Apprenticeship of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” in South Dakota History (Winter 1983)
1983 | Michael L. Lawson for “Indian Heirship Lands: The Lake Traverse Experience,” in South Dakota History (Winter 1982)
1982 | Mary Young for “The Cherokee Nation: Mirror of the Republic,” American Quarterly (Winter 1981)
1981 | Joseph Conlin for “Beans, Bacon and Galantine Truffles: The Food of the Western Miners,” in Arizona and the West (Spring 1981)
1980 | Joan M. Jensen and Darlis A. Miller for “The Gentle Tamers Revisited: New Approaches to the History of Women in the American West,” in Pacific Historical Review (May 1980)
1979 | Richard White for “The Winning of the West: The Expansion of the Western Sioux in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” in Journal of American History (September 1978)