California History is pleased to announce the winner of the Richard J. Orsi prize for the best article published in the journal in 2022. The committee unanimously selected Warren C. Wood’s “S. An-Sky’s The Dybbuk and the Process of Jewish American Identity in 1920s San Francisco” (California History, Vol. 99, No. 2, May [Summer] 2022).
The committee’s report on the winning article notes:
“In this well-researched and fascinating case study of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century San Francisco’s small but vibrant Jewish community, Warren C. Wood shows how the 1928 staging of playwright S. An-Sky’s The Dybbuk helped heal the deep cultural and ethnic tensions dividing the city’s older and highly assimilated German Jews from its more recently arrived and still struggling Jews from Eastern Europe. By joining together to perform “the most famous play of Yiddish theater,” San Francisco’s German and Eastern European Jews helped each other to gain greater mutual understanding and to meet one of the most difficult challenges that has confronted each of the nation’s many immigrant groups throughout the course of U.S. history: striking an acceptable balance between successful assimilation into mainstream American culture while, at the same time, preserving a proud and distinct sense of ancestral heritage and ethnic identity.”
Award-winner, Wood comments, “I am truly honored to have my name mentioned in the same breath as Richard Orsi, the dean of California history in his day, as much as to have won the prize named for him. The 1928 theatrical production of The Dybbuk in San Francisco was an important event in the process of evolving Jewish American identity. It was important to me to shine some light on this, given that so much of conventional Jewish American history—like so much American history in general—centers on regions east of the Mississippi. Appreciation of my work by a publisher as respected as the UC Press is just one more acknowledgement of the profound influence the history of California has had on the history of the United States. I am deeply grateful for the recognition.”
Wood is a native Californian who studied for his Ph.D. with Patricia Cline Cohen at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a nineteenth century historian of the United States with a particular interest in the influence of gender in the developing American West. The article honored by the Orsi Prize grew out of other interests nurtured in a seminar taught by James F. Brooks and Luke Roberts at UCSB. Wood lectures in US and California history at the California State Polytechnic University Pomona. He is a father of two sons, and he lives with three cats in Santa Barbara.
In selecting 2022’s Orsi Prize winner, the committee agreed that a very close second was Catherine Christensen Gwin’s “The Selling of American Girls: Mexico’s White Slave Trade in the California Imaginary” (California History, Vol. 99, No. 1, February (Spring) 2022). The committee praised Gwin’s “deeply researched article . . . [which] compellingly argues that fears of race mixing and changing sexual mores underlaid Californians’ near-hysteria over the trafficking of white American girls at the U.S.-Mexico border early in the twentieth century.” They continue,
“Drawing on archival sources from both countries and a substantial body of secondary literature, Gwin demonstrates how narratives of victimization amplified anxieties concerning the threat to white American womanhood supposedly posed by dark-skinned men—black, Chinese, and Mexican—and resulted in a hardening of the international border that was intended for the protection not only of American women but also of the nation itself.”
In acknowledging the award’s honorable mention, Gwin notes, “It is truly an honor to be recognized as a contender for the Robert J. Orsi Prize. What a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration, and a great reminder that we are part of an engaged, invested and supportive community of scholars.”
Gwin teaches history at Palomar Community College in San Diego and is currently working on a manuscript that examines the role of Euro-American women in the formation of the U.S.-Mexico border in the early twentieth century. Her scholarship considers how American prostitutes and reformers figured centrally in the establishment of a fortified international boundary and in the making of racial and national identities in California between 1900-1929.