--Midwestern History Association Confers Honor on Aaron Shapiro--

Sioux Falls, SD – The Midwestern History Association today announced the winner of its annual Jon Gjerde Prize for the best book authored on a Midwestern history topic during a calendar year. The honor was conferred upon Aaron Shapiro for his book entitled The Lure of the North Woods: Cultivating Tourism in the Upper Midwest (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). The award will be presented on April 17th at the annual meeting of the Midwestern History Association, which will take place in St. Louis in conjunction with the Organization of American Historians annual meeting.

Aaron Shapiro, a Chicago native, currently serves as Associate Professor and Director of Public History at UNC Charlotte. In his book Shapiro describes how residents and visitors reshaped the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan from a hub of production supplying industrial America with vast quantities of lumber and mineral ore in the nineteenth century into a vacationland offering a pleasant escape amongst woods and lakes in the twentieth. The rejuvenated North Woods profited in new ways by drawing on emerging connections between the urban and rural, including improved transportation, promotion, recreational land use, and conservation initiatives. Shapiro explains how this transformation is linked to the interwar origins of modern American environmentalism. At a time when travel and recreation are considered major economic forces, The Lure of the North Woods reveals how leisure—and tourism in particular—has shaped modern America.

Shapiro previously taught at Auburn University, where he launched the public history program. As national historian for the US Forest Service, he was previously involved with a variety of public history projects including films, websites, oral histories, interpretive planning, exhibit development, collections management, historic preservation, and heritage tourism initiatives. Before joining the Forest Service, Shapiro was Assistant Director of the Scholl Center for Family and Community History at Chicago’s Newberry Library where he served as academic director for two Department of Education Teaching American History grants, working cooperatively with the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago-area cultural and non-profit institutions.

Shapiro received his MA and Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago and a BA in History from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to The Lure of the North Woods, Shapiro is the author of numerous articles and projects exploring public and environmental history. He is particularly interested in questions regarding the intersection of people and place, changing perspectives of the cultural and natural landscape, and connections between memory, heritage, and public historical interpretation. His research explores questions about the history of land use and environmental change, modern environmental politics, the relationship between work and leisure, and broader cultural transformations in twentieth century urban and rural America. Shapiro has particular research interests in the history of the modern United States, public history, environmental history, global heritage, historic preservation, history and new media, and oral history. He has served as chair of the Education Committee of the American Society for Environmental History and on the Alabama Historical Commission National Register Review Board.

“Shapiro’s work is a fine example of regional history and a sensitive examination of the rise of tourism as a trade catering to the needs and desires of ordinary people rather than the rich. He combines good scholarship with good story-telling,” commented Joseph Fitzharris, chairman of the selection committee.

“Aaron’s book is a splendid example of the rich and varied topics that are awaiting exploration by a new generation of Midwestern historians, who will be inspired by his example,” added Midwestern History Association president Jon K. Lauck.

“We’ve been excited by the new, and much needed, attention to our region's history and culture represented by the founding of the Midwestern History Association and the inauguration of the Jon Gjerde Prize and are very proud to see this recognition of Aaron Shapiro’s The Lure of the North Woods as the kind of work those initiatives will encourage and recognize in the years ahead,” said Doug Armato, Director of the University of Minnesota Press.

The members of this year’s Gjerde Prize committee are Dr. Joseph Fitzharris of the University of St. Thomas; Greg Schneider of Emporia State University; and Margaret Sankey of Minnesota State University-Moorhead. The Gjerde Prize committee will soon be accepting nominations for its prize issued to books published in the calendar year 2014.

The Gjerde Prize is named for University of California-Berkeley historian Jon Gjerde, who wrote extensively about the Midwest and its immigrant peoples. Gjerde, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, earned his BA from the University of Northern Iowa and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota and went on to become the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History and American Citizenship at the University of California-Berkeley, where he also served as Dean of the Division of Social Sciences in the College of Letters and Science. Gjerde passed away suddenly in October 2008. In the fall of 2014, the MHA’s annual book award was named in his honor.

For more information on the Midwestern History Association, see the association’s website:


UNC Charlotte historian Shepherd W. McKinley’s book, Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold: Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina, has been named the best book of South Carolina history published last year, as the winner of the South Carolina Historical Society’s 2014 George C. Rogers Jr. Book Award.

The editor and editorial board of the South Carolina Historical Magazine chose the book as a finalist, and an independent panel of three judges named it the winner. McKinley, a senior lecturer and undergraduate advisor in the Department of History, will accept the award at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston on February 28.

McKinley’s book is the first book written about how phosphate mining affected the South Carolina plantation economy. His research considered how the convergence of the phosphate and fertilizer industries held significant and long-lasting impacts for America and the American South. The book explores business, labor, social, and economic aspects, while also detailing the influence on a variety of people in the post-emancipation American South.

Phosphate mining offered plantation owners a way to recover from the losses they experienced from emancipation. Mining also provided a new option for sharecroppers, which allowed freed people to obtain labor concessions, housing, and other economic benefits.

“My book actually investigates three related industries – phosphate mining on private lands,  phosphate mining on state regulated rivers, and fertilizer manufacture – using that mined phosphate,” McKinley said.

“Besides the importance of industrialization in the South Carolina lowcountry and the freed slaves’ transitions to free laborers after emancipation, a third point I try to make in the book is that those three industries and the workers and entrepreneurs – often former slave owners – who built them created the South’s fertilizer revolution,” he said. “As a result of that revolution and other developments, ‘King Cotton’ spread quickly throughout the South after the Civil War and mired the region in poverty until after WWII.”

McKinley’s interest in this topic began with his dissertation when he was a tourist visiting Drayton Hall plantation outside Charleston. “The historical interpreter who told me about these industries was the son of phosphate miners and the grandson of slaves,” he said. “I realized that there was not much written about this very important topic. And then there’s Charleston… who wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in Charleston?”

Extensive Research Shapes Book

To research the topic, he did extensive archival research at the SC Historical Society, the Charleston Museum, and other places, and interviewed Richmond Bowens, the historical interpreter at Drayton Hall. “I also became a sort of Indiana Jones, searching for physical evidence of phosphate mining and fertilizer manufacturing at various plantations and industrial locations throughout the South Carolina lowcountry between Charleston and Beaufort,” McKinley said.

Scholars greeted the book as a detailed portrait of industry in the New South. The book is “a finely layered and important study that fills in gaps in the industrial history of the New South and especially low-country South Carolina,” said Sidney Bland, author of Preserving Charleston’s Past, Shaping Its Future: The Life and Times of Susan Pringle Frost.

Charles Holden, author of In the Great Maelstrom, described the book as one that blurs the traditional line between the Old South and New South economies, rendering ” a nuanced picture of the new labor relations in the post-slavery era.”

McKinley has integrated his research findings and techniques in the classroom.  “I teach several classes on the New South era, and I try to make my students aware of the important transitions that were happening during that period, transitions that included industrialization and scientific farming,” he said. “Just yesterday, I was showing a student in my HIST2600 class some photos of 1878 convict lease records of phosphate miners who were ‘recaptured after escaping.’ I also emphasize the importance of proofreading and editing anything they write by bringing up examples from the long journey from my 900-page dissertation to my 300-page book.”

McKinley earned his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware (Hagley Fellowship Program), his master’s degree from UNC Charlotte, and his bachelor’s degree from Duke University. His research interests include South Carolina phosphate and fertilizer industries, southern industrialization, emancipation, Reconstruction, Redemption, southern conservatives 1865-1920, southern business and labor 1865-1920, convict labor, Jim Crow, industrial pollution, and advertising. His current project involves United States bankers and banking in the Dominican Republic during the Trujillo regime, 1920s-1930s.

In addition to his award-winning book, he is co-editor with his UNC Charlotte colleague Steve Sabol of a forthcoming book, documentary, and associated conference, titled the North Carolina During the First World War, 1914-1922 Project (2015-2016) and co-author of the 2006 book, North Carolina: New Directions for an Old Land.

Shepherd McKinley

Words: Lynn Roberson, CLAS Communications Director

Image: Courtesy of McKinley

Monday, April 13, 2015