As 2013 is now firmly established as “last year,” it is high time for me to offer my annual “Best Acknowledgments” and bestow the Amanda Foreman Award upon the author(s) and book(s) this subjective committee of one finds most deserving of kudos for gracious and specific thanks offered to named library and archives staff who, in providing research access to the author, helped bring the book to publication.
The Amanda Foreman Award is named for its first winner. In a subsequent piece that Foreman wrote on literary prizes for the New York Times Book Review over a year later, in April 2013, she referred to the award. “Laugh all you like,” she wrote, “it was one of the proudest moments of my life.” Thank you, Dr. Foreman! In truth, your “Acknowledgements” in A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (2011) have yet to be surpassed.
This year’s notable “Acknowledgements” sort themselves into the following prizes, culminating with our winners.
THE A-ROSE-BY-ANY-OTHER-NAME AWARD
John V. Fleming. The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason. (Norton, Jul. 2013)
In keeping with his alchemical subject, Fleming transmutes his “Acknowledgments” into “A Brief Word to the Reader on How the Book Was Made and Who Helped Me Make It.” While he does not thank any librarians by name (“My first debt of gratitude, as always, is to the librarians who work so effectively to preserve and make accessible the materials of humanistic study”), I must acknowledge that neither does he thank his family by name. A nice balanced approach!
THE LIBRARIANS-ARE-NOT-SURVEILLANCE-PROFESSIONALS AWARD
David Rosen & Aaron Santesso. The Watchman in Pieces: Surveillance, Literature, and Liberal Personhood. (Yale Univ., Jul. 2013).
The authors note in their “Acknowledgments” that, given the topic of their cross-disciplinary study, “Many of those with whom we spoke have requested anonymity,…” I must respectfully point out that librarians are not among the “surveillance professionals” who requested or needed the anonymity they were granted in these “Acknowledgements.” (However, as a collector of Georgian “lover’s eye” jewelry, I think your cover art is tops!)
THE TUM TUM & BASTARDS AWARD
Jane Ridley. The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. (Random, Dec. 2013).
These are very rich “Acknowledgments.” We can hear the clip-clop of carriage horses and smell the scent of cigars, leather, and port. There’s double gratitude to the queen, first for granting access to the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle and then for giving permission to quote from the archives. However, there’s another book that wins, below, on the score of acknowledgments to the high born. I tip my hat to such piquant and specific thanks in Ridley’s “Acknowledgments” as “Anthony Camp’s prompt and scholarly genealogical research has kept me right on mistresses and bastards,” and “Henry Poole and Co. of Savile Row provided an insight into Tum Tum’s waistline.” I am craving roast beef and Yorkshire pudding now. Are you?
THE I-FORGOT-TO-REMEMBER-TO-FORGET (OR THE OTHER WAY AROUND) AWARD
The country song (one of Elvis’s first recordings) goes “I Forgot To Remember To Forget,” but I direct you to Joseph Monteyne’s “Acknowledgments” in his From Still Life to the Screen: Print Culture, Display, and the Materiality of the Image in Eighteenth-Century London. (Yale Univ., Oct. 2013) in which, instead, the author remembers he’d forgotten to remember. He confesses: “Here I must also acknowledge some people I forgot when last preparing a book for publication—…I apologize if there is anyone I have left off this list.” Nice to take care of it that way, sir! Well done!
the MOST-THANKS-TO-ROYALTY-and-PEERS AWARD
Jung Chang. Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China. (Knopf, Nov. 2013).
The author thanks not simply “Her Majesty the Queen for permission to quote material from the Royal Archives at Windsor,” but also a Romanov prince, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, one Lord, and five Ladies. Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to regular library and archives staff who helped her, she limits the names to those in charge, adding, “Indeed, I am thankful to all the archivists who assisted me; I am only sorry not to be able to name them all here….” She does not explain why she was unable to do so.
THE GLASS-HALF-FULL AWARD
Andro Linklater. Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership. (Bloomsbury, Nov. 2013).
This was one of LJ’s best books of 2013. We sadly note Linklater’s passing last November. He added a wry perspective to the general run of gratitude in “Acknowledgments” when he wrote that, in trying out his subject on any number of associates, “Almost all responses, including incomprehension and boredom, were useful….” It’s instructive to remember that when we are bored or confused we may actually be serving a purpose!
THE award for MOST IRONIC
Jill Lepore. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinion of Jane Franklin. (Knopf, Oct. 2013).
In a book on Benjamin Franklin’s sister, forgotten by history—”Never once did he so much as mention her name”—in which Lepore seeks to recapture what is lost to us about Jane Franklin and her world, Lepore’s own “Acknowledgments” begin:
“Heartfelt thanks to the generous librarians, archivists, collectors, and curators who helped me write this book. People taught me how to stitch books. People showed me how to boil soap. People pored over old pages of manuscript. People wrote me the most unbelievable letters. Thank you.” Think of all the “people” who helped Lepore who are now lost to history.
THE AMANDA FOREMAN AWARD WINNERS
When it came to thanking library and archives staff who aided her research, Foreman took a very practical and thorough approach. With little fuss or muss, as I wrote at the time, she enumerated those who helped her at each of scores of repositories. She did not write a narrative testament, as is much more common. The narrative approach can enable an author to wax supportive of librarians and archivists generally without actually citing any by name. (“In particular I would like to pay tribute to librarians and archivists everywhere, the unsung heroes who safeguard our past, for their unstinting devotion and priceless work at a time when their resources have been and are still under severe threats and pressures,” wrote one of LJ‘s best-book authors of 2013.)
This year’s winners don’t weave their “Acknowledgments” narratives around a paucity of names. In a truly gratifying mixture, these two winning authors display both their own own individuality and their connectedness to others as they declare their thanks.
Erskine Clarke. By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey. (Basic: Perseus, Oct. 2013).
The author’s “Acknowledgments” carry us through the island landscapes and inland waterways of Georgia’s Lowcountry (not to mention his research trip to Gabon) as he names those who aided his journey, from seven staff members at the John Bulow Campbell Library of Columbia Theological Seminary, to two who worked at the Georgia Historical Society, “whom I now regard as friends.” Clarke names other repository staff from South Carolina to Wisconsin “who went out of their way to provide me with needed materials.” Is it pure chance that both he and his fellow winner have wives named Nancy? Yes.
David Roll. The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler. (Oxford Univ., Jan. 2013).
Roll thanks Harry Hopkins’s daughter, Diana: “Fluent in Arabic and Farsi, she is rumored to have been a CIA agent, although her lips remain sealed.” While library public service staff will recognize a bit of the grumpy researcher in Roll, he manages to charm us: “Periodically reprimanded by archivists Virginia Lewick, Matt Hanson, and Kirstin Carter (especially Virginia, my favorite nag), I tried to navigate the arcane rules governing those who paw through boxes and squint at microfilm in the research rooms of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Bob Clark, a senior archivist and supersleuth, helped me track down and locate documents in the various collections.” He goes on to confess to letting his dog off the leash during research breaks outdoors at Hyde Park. (Yes, he names the dog: Thatcher.) In writing in his “Acknowledgments” about striving to “drill deeper” in his research, we see that he has done the same in his thanks as he remembers all those who helped him in what he calls his “happy effort.”
Here’s to a year full of magnificent “Acknowledgments,” rich in detail, brimming with gratitude for those who made the “happy effort” of research possible!