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Northumbria historian receives 2021 Willi Paul Adams award from the Organization of American Historians

25th April 2021

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) has announced that Dr Elsa Devienne, of Northumbria University, is the recipient of the OAH’s 2021 Willi Paul Adams Award, which is given every two years for the best book on American history published in a language other than English. The Award was presented during the OAH’s 2021 Annual Meeting.

Caption:Dr Devienne's book, La ruée vers le sable. Une histoire environnementale des plages de Los Angeles au XXe siècleDr Devienne’s book, La ruéevers le sable. Une histoire environnementale des plages de Los Angeles au XXe siècle [The Sand Rush: An Environmental History of Los Angeles Beaches in the 20th Century] (Éditions de la Sorbonne), combines environmental and cultural aspects in forming California’s beach culture. When did people start enjoying beaches? Who went there? What did they do there? What did they wear?

Calling the book a “remarkable history of Los Angeles’s beaches,” one reviewer noted that Dr Devienne paid close attention to the production of the beaches as public space and the ways the beaches and the people who frequent them construct their bodies.

“The author makes a good case for the significance of her topic, noting that the Los Angeles beaches are one of the largest public spaces in any city in the United States – approximately four times the size of Central Park.”

Another reviewer remarked: “I was very favourably impressed by the range of her sources: newspapers, government reports, movies. … And she compares American historians’ approaches to those by historians in her native France.

“I particularly appreciated that she brought in the serious way French historians have dealt with the issue of beach-centred hedonism, for example, unlike their American colleagues.”

“The book contributes to our understanding of how California wound up having so many beaches with generous public access. I’m unaware of another volume that synthesizes material across academic disciplines to present so complete a picture of the development of a megalopolis, while using the lens of its coastline to help explain that development. In so doing Devienne makes a substantial contribution not only to California history, but also to urban history and environmental history.”

Caption:Dr Elsa DevienneDr Devienne is a member of Northumbria University’s Department of Humanities and is a lecturer in US history.

Commenting on her achievement, Dr Devienne said: “Receiving this award from the Organization of American Historians is a tremendous honour. I am incredibly proud to see my name listed alongside that of scholars I admire. The award also represents a big encouragement to go ahead with the translation of the book into English (it is under contract with Oxford University Press)."

For the full list of OAH 2021 book award and prize recipients, please visit the OAH website.

The Organization of American Historians was founded in 1907 and is the largest professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. The mission of the OAH is to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and to encourage informed public discussion of and engagement with historical questions. The mission of the OAH is guided by the principles of the advancement of scholarship, historical advocacy, and professional integrity. The OAH national headquarters are located in the historic Raintree House on Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

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