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Press Release

CONTACT: Debra Humphreys
(202) 387-3760 (ext. 422)

The Association of American Colleges and Universities Awards the 2002 Frederic W. Ness Book Award to Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg

Washington DC—January 26, 2002—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) presented its prestigious Frederic W. Ness Book Award to University of Washington scholar Sam Wineburg at the Association's 88th annual meeting here in Washington, D.C. The award is given for the book that best illuminates the goals and practices of a contemporary liberal education. Sam Wineburg's 2001 book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past was selected by a panel of educational leaders. The first Ness award was presented in 1980. In this study, Wineburg applies his expertise as a cognitive psychologist to the field of history education and examines what is intrinsic to historical thinking, how it might be taught, and why most students still adhere to the "one damned thing after another" concept of history.

"Sam Wineburg has not merely contributed to our understanding of how history is created, taught and learned; he has nearly singlehandedly forged a distinctive field of research and a new educational literature. This volume brings together a decade-long record of conceptual invention and methodological creativity," remarks Lee S. Shulman, president, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, who taught Wineburg at Stanford.

"It's extremely gratifying to have work on historical understanding recognized by this award. For awhile, it seemed like the 'cognitive revolution' was going to pass history by. But now there are dozens of scholars taking up questions about how young people 'become historical' in modern society. It's an exciting and challenging time to be doing this work," remarked Wineburg upon receiving the Ness award.

"Historical Thinking is intellectually substantive, integrative, and timely. In the midst of all the talk about new technologies, distance learning, and standardized testing, his fine-grained inquiries into learning and knowledge are a sobering reminder that educators have a lot to learn about learning," said Randy Bass, director, Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, Georgetown University. Bass has used Wineburg's research in a national project that helps humanists develop students' capacities in inquiry-based learning.

"AAC&U is extremely pleased to present this year's Ness book award to this timely and substantive work of scholarship. In our interconnected world, it is more important than ever that historical and cultural studies enable students to do more than just memorize facts. Wineburg helps us understand the cognitive skills involved in envisioning historical meaning, contexts, and processes from disparate records. He also shows why so many students--and some of their teachers--never do develop any sense of historical developments and their significance," said Carol Geary Schneider, president, AAC&U.

This book award was established by AAC&U in 1979 to honor AAC&U's president emeritus, Frederic W. Ness. Recent award winners have included Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education by Martha C. Nussbaum, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned by Jane Tompkins, and Idealism and Liberal Education by James O. Freedman.

Members of the 2002 Ness Book Award committee included: Bobby Fong, president, Butler University; Judith Ramaley, assistant director for education and human resources, National Science Foundation; Charlene Nunley, president, Montgomery College; and Robert Corrigan (chair), president, San Francisco State University.

AAC&U is the leading national association devoted to advancing and strengthening liberal learning for all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Since its founding in 1915, AAC&U's membership has grown to more than 730 accredited public and private colleges and universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education at both the national and local levels and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

For additional information about AAC&U programs and publications, visit