2020 Scholarly Award Winners

The WHA’s awards and scholarships provide both financial support and recognition to world historians doing innovative work at all stages of their careers. Our 2020 research awards exemplify the breadth of intellectual inquiry in world history.

Jian Gao

Jian Gao, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Texas in Austin won this year’s WHA–Phi Alpha Theta Best Graduate paper prize. “Political Mobilizations and Cultural Spaces: Transnational Chinese Associations in Mexico, 1922-1945” is an insightful analysis of the work done by Chinese associations in Mexico. The paper ties Tong brotherhoods to the exercise of politics in China and other parts of the world, making it a thoroughly global paper. It also dispels the traditional assumption that Tongs were only violent criminal underworld organizations, providing strong evidence that points instead to their role as transnational community and political organizations supporting movements in China. Gao’s work uses both Chinese and Spanish language sources, a move at the forefront of an emerging strand of both global and Latin American studies. Another of his papers received recognition from the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies, the oldest Latin-American focused academic organization in the world, and his dissertation research won support from the American Historical Association’s Bernadotte E. Schmidt grant.

Alan Strathern

Alan Strathern, an associate professor at Brasenose College, Oxford University, is an early modernist with a deep interest in religious conversion. His book, Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge University Press, 2019) won the 2020 Jerry Bentley Prize for the best book in world history. His magisterial account highlights the interplay between religion and political authority that characterized states and societies in many world regions prior to the twentieth century. His rich theoretical and empirical study demonstrates how and why both immanentist and transcendentalist traditions were crucial to the construction of states, political power, and legitimacy. The book ranges far and wide across space and time to trace the political entanglements of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the religions of the Pacific Islands. He is at work on a comparative study of ruler conversions in Kongo, Hawai’i, Japan, and Thailand.

The WHA congratulates Gao and Strathern for their readable, pathbreaking scholarly work. Equally important, we thank our members and supporters for your generous donations to our scholarship funds, so that we’re able to recognize significant contributions to our field. If you’d like to support this kind of academic work, we invite you to make a donation to the WHA Scholarship Fund.

Making these awards would not be possible without the labor, generously given, of our committee members. Thank you to Jonathan Weber, Alexander Shelby, and Jon Davidann, chair, of the Phi Alpha Theta Student Paper Prize committee. Thank you to John Thornton and Anand Yang, chair, of the Bentley book prize committee.

Laura Mitchell

WHA President