Theodore Roosevelt American History Award 2020

Every year, the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies organizes the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award (TRAHA), which is presented to the best MA thesis on a topic related to the history of the United States, written at a Dutch university during the previous academic year. The Jury of the 2020 TRAHA was comprised of Cees Heere (chair, RIAS), Katy Hull (Erasmus University Rotterdam/University of Amsterdam), Queeny van der Spek (2019 TRAHA winner), and Maarten Zwiers (University of Groningen).

The Jury read seven MA theses, submitted by five universities. These dealt with a broad range of topics approached through diverse methodologies, from archival research to the innovative use of oral histories and digital sources.  Many of the theses dealt with acutely relevant subjects, ranging from transatlantic diplomacy, to the emergence of AI, the history of the LGBT rights movement, and social and political dynamics of the US border. Cumulatively, this year’s TRAHA nominees testify both to the vibrancy of the study of American history in the Netherlands, and to its richness as a field of inquiry.

After due deliberation, the Jury unanimously agreed to award the Theodore Roosevelt American History Award to Emma van Toorn, of Radboud University Nijmegen, for her thesis “Faith Floods the Desert: Religious Dynamics in the Southern Arizona Sanctuary Movements, 1980-2019.”

van Toorn provides a richly layered history of the Sanctuary movement set in its Arizonan locale, and explores how religion manifested itself within the movement’s rise to national prominence. The thesis approaches its subject from an interdisciplinary and transnational angle; it combines historical and anthropological methods, and pays close attention to dynamics on both sides of the US-Mexico border. The thesis is very well-written, and clearly reads like a labor of love. The Jury was particularly impressed by the ways van Toorn connected 1980s activism with current events in Arizona. Her timely intervention thus provides us with a fabulous example of how American history research can be both historically grounded and socially relevant today, dealing with issues that are central to U.S. society in the 2020s.

A copy of the full TRAHA Jury report can be found here.