Professor receives grant to research book

The bad news is that associate history professor Scott Sandage will be on sabbatical next year. The good news is that he’ll be spending the time doing research for a new book, thanks to a $40,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH).

The book, [ITAL]Half-Breed Creek: A Tall Tale of Race on the Frontier, 1804–1941[ITAL], will explore the cultural history of mixed-race identity. The money will finance visits to archives and other historical sites that relate to his research.
Sandage’s project is centered on a little-known “half-breed” Native American reservation in southeast Nebraska in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“It is a fascinating family saga. Because of the inherent interest in a story of generations of family, it should resonate with common readers and scholars alike,” one member of the National Endowment Committee wrote on Sandage’s application for the grant.

The fellowship is highly competitive. According to NEH officials, there were 161 awards for 1507 applicants. In addition to these individual awards, 118 institutions received funding. Overall, $10.7 million was awarded.

“It’s a rigorous process where we examine applications again and again. We like to think that the awards are given to the best of the best,” said Noel Milan, the media representative for the NEH.

Sandage came to Carnegie Mellon in 1996 after earning his Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University. He teaches one large lecture undergraduate survey course of U.S. history as well as courses on individualism, political humor, and one very popular course on the roots of rock and roll. However, the majority of his research concerns identity in America.

“This fellowship represents a certification that Scott is onto a groundbreaking set of issues in identity formation. He is dealing with race in the most complicated form,” said Joe Trotter, Mellon professor of history and department head. “It’s not just about whites and blacks, but whites, blacks, and Native Americans. It’s about their intersection and an important moment in national history. We are really proud of this fellowship and of Scott for having received it.”

[ITAL]Half-Breed Creek[ITAL] is an extension of Sandage’s identity research in the context of the Native American reservation.

“[The reservation] became a place that was used to decide whether your biology or your culture defines your race,” Sandage said. “The issue is still alive today; the year 2000 was the first time you could report yourself as mixed-race to the United States census bureau.”

One of the first inhabitants of the reservation was Antoine Barada, the son of a French trapper and an Omaha Indian woman. Barada became a legendary figure in Nebraska folklore, but Sandage is focusing on questions that arose about the Barada family’s racial identity. In the late 1800s, a court case involving the family considered whether biology or culture defines a person’s race. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1904 that the Baradas were culturally white, despite their Indian ancestry. Ironically, poverty kept them sharecropping on the reservation for another 35 years.

[ITAL]Half-Breed Creek[ITAL] is not Sandage’s first book. In 2005, Harvard University Press published [ITAL]Born Losers: A History of Failure in America[ITAL], which won the 2005 Wilson Prize as the best book by a first-time author for Harvard University Press.

“For many years we were involved in social history, or history from the bottom up. And we’re still doing that, but what Scott represents is maturation towards more cultural sensitivity in the history field,” Trotter said. “It’s a trend that represents the newer generation among scholars of history.”

Winning this fellowship improves what has already been a successful academic year for Sandage. Last May, he was recognized with the Elliot Dunlap Smith Teaching Award. The award is given by H&SS. The recipient is chosen based on ratings from students and faculty.