ANU historian, Professor Ann McGrath, has won a 2016 NSW Premier's History prize for her book, llicit Love: Interracial sex and marriage in the United States and Australia.
The Director of the ANU Australian Centre for Indigenous History, won the $15,000 general history section.
The judges said Illicit Love combined Queensland and Cherokee history and showcased the best of innovative trends in transnational history writing.
"In a voice at once intimate and authoritative, McGrath shows how ideas of gender and race were fundamental to the formation of the new societies of the USA and Australia. The work demonstrates both narrative flair and critical reflection, brilliantly revealing how interracial relationships acted as a microcosm of broader tensions at the same time as they held out the promise of reconciliation between indigenous and settler peoples in both societies."
Professor McGrath said she was "absolutely thrilled and honoured" to receive such a prestigious award, especially against stellar competition.
"I wanted the readers to connect closely with the stories of real people who loved and lived and who raised families against great obstacles," she explained.
"This was a hard book to pull off, and I almost gave up on it, but I knew that the history of Illicit Love had the potential to provide a totally new way of looking at nations. I wanted to shed new light upon the dynamics of marriage, colonialism, sovereignty and the transnational. Through this award, most of all, I hope that even more readers will get to know the courageous characters whose stories I narrated.'
Her colleague, Associate Professor Frank Bongiorno, who was also shortlisted for the NSW award for his The Eighties: The Decade that Transformed Australia, has been shortlisted for Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences' (CHASS) prestigious Australia Prize.
Both historians featured in the longlist of seven finalists chosen from 132 print and e-books of non-fiction. The winner of the $3,500 prize will be announced on 20 October in Melbourne.
Their books have also been shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year.
Also vying for the ACT prize is Locust Girl by Dr Merlinda Bobis of the ANU School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics. Locust Girl took out the $40,000 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
Associate Professor Bongiorno said the ANU School of History provides a supportive environment in which to work and write, as writing a book can be a rather lonely and lengthy exercise.
“On the same day that our Head of School announced to staff the [NSW Premier’s Award] news about Ann and I, he was also able to report that two of our students – Geraldine Fela and Emily Gallagher – had been highly commended for their essays in the international Undergraduate Awards,” Frank said.
“That was another reminder of the stimulating intellectual environment we are privileged to enjoy here at the ANU. Staff, students and visitors all contribute to it.”
Head of School, Professor Nicholas Brown, said the School is honoured to have nominations for such important awards, and also recognition of the contribution academics seek to make to scholarship that can also energise and inspire public discussion.
“Frank and Ann exemplify our commitment to the research-led engagement with both teaching and wider debate: it is a privilege to have them both as colleagues.”
Professor McGrath said she was pleased by readers’ responses to her book, and that they cared about the characters and concepts to which she brought attention.
“I aimed to write about intimacy and love in a way that would not lose the power of rich narratives to enable readers to experience history’s highs and lows.
“My research uncovered the secrets of colonialism and how love across the boundaries could transcend larger political ambitions. Loving mixed families ensured that Indigenous authority and knowledge continued through the generations.”
Associate Professor Bongiorno said when he’s writing a book, he never knows if it will work out, if he’s satisfied, or if readers will enjoy it.
“So it’s obviously a welcome kind of acknowledgment if the books stands out as among those considered by a panel of expert judges.
“I’d also like to think that these occasions do help to motivate future historians – to give them a sense that what we do is not only important but actually valued by our society, and that people in universities can write books for a public audience.”
Dean of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Professor Paul Pickering, said it is not surprising that again ANU historians feature among the nominees for prestigious awards.
“After all ANU has a world-renowned department, among the best, if not the best, in the country and equal to the best in the world.
“In fact, it would be more surprising if there were no nominees from among our staff.
“Congratulations to Ann and Frank for demonstrating how to combine absolute scholarly excellence with work that is accessible to a wider public.”
The ACT awards will be announced in December.