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Leilah DanielsonScott Bills Memorial Prize
First Book / Dissertation in Peace History Published in 2014-15
Awarded October 2015

The Peace History Society awards the Scott Bills Memorial Prize bi-annually (in odd years) for an outstanding English-language work in the field of Peace History. This year, the Prize is awarded for an outstanding first book or an outstanding dissertation by a faculty member or independent scholar completed in 2014 or 2015. The Prize carries a cash award of $500.

For the best first book published or dissertation completed in English during 2014-15, the Bills Committee awards the Bills' Memorial Prize to Leilah Danielson for her book, American Gandhi : A. J. Muste and the history of radicalism in the twentieth century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

Leilah Danielson’s American Gandhi is peace history at its best and has been unanimously selected by the review committee to receive the Bills Prize from among seven fine books that were submitted and carefully reviewed. It was unanimous that American Gandhi was by far the most impressive. Scholarly in tone, impeccably researched in terms of archival sources, and relying upon a wide-ranging integration of secondary literature, Danielson has penned the most authoritative study of the famous twentieth century American pacifist, A.J.  Muste. Her delicately-written prose, crafted with precision and objectivity, reveals the potentially fruitful, often fraught, relationship Muste sought to forge between the peace and labor movements of the interwar period and his subsequent efforts to bring his personal pacifist witness to bear in the civil rights, anti-nuclear, and anti-colonial movements.

The Scott Bills Committee considered a number of reasons for this book’s recognition. First, Danielson extended her analysis to incorporate the roles of European socialism, Leninism, and Gandhian non-violence while demonstrating how these influences played a critical role in shaping twentieth century American radical politics. Second, her account of Muste’s religiously evolving (sometimes cynical) steps to find an institutional religious home to take a stand is beautifully juxtaposed against the dominant narrative of Niebuhrian Christian realism in post-World War II United States. Third, the author presents a balanced account as biography in terms of discussing Muste’s courageous acts as well as flawed understandings.  She documents, for example, his willingness to experience physical pain as part of his pacifist witness during the tumultuous Lawrence Textile Strike of 1919 as well as his flawed misunderstanding of Trotskyism in the early 1930s, which led eventually to his “return to pacifism” in 1936. Fourth, the committee, particularly appreciated how Danielson interjects Gandhian methodology as a religious metaphor for Muste’s  “third way” when addressing the Cold War realties and eventual American military involvement in Southeast Asia, when prior to his death in 1967, he exhibited his willingness to travel to South Vietnam as part of his pacifist witness.  Lastly,   the committee recognizes this work not only for shedding new light on Muste’s understanding of radical politics but also for providing the most detailed analysis describing the religious component of his commitment to the philosophy of nonresistance as activism.

The committee would also like to recognize the other authors whose works were carefully considered. Each in his or her own way have contributed to the growing body of peace history literature. As intellectual biography, as peace history, and as American history, Leilah Danielson’s American Gandhi: A.J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century is to be awarded the 2017 Scott Bills Prize for a first-time published book in peace history by the Peace History Society.
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