Author Aaron Shapiro wins Midwestern History Association's Jon Gjerde Prize

Shapiro is author of 'THE LURE OF THE NORTH WOODS'

Apr 13, 2015

Sioux Falls, SD – The Midwestern History Association today announced the winner of its annual Jon Gjerde Prize for the best book authored on a Midwestern history topic during a calendar year. The honor was conferred upon Aaron Shapiro for his book entitled The Lure of the North Woods: Cultivating Tourism in the Upper Midwest (University of Minnesota Press, 2013). The award will be presented on April 17th at the annual meeting of the Midwestern History Association, which will take place in St. Louis in conjunction with the Organization of American Historians annual meeting.

Aaron Shapiro, a Chicago native, currently serves as Associate Professor and Director of Public History at UNC Charlotte. In his book Shapiro describes how residents and visitors reshaped the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan from a hub of production supplying industrial America with vast quantities of lumber and mineral ore in the nineteenth century into a vacationland offering a pleasant escape amongst woods and lakes in the twentieth. The rejuvenated North Woods profited in new ways by drawing on emerging connections between the urban and rural, including improved transportation, promotion, recreational land use, and conservation initiatives. Shapiro explains how this transformation is linked to the interwar origins of modern American environmentalism. At a time when travel and recreation are considered major economic forces, The Lure of the North Woods reveals how leisure—and tourism in particular—has shaped modern America.

Shapiro previously taught at Auburn University, where he launched the public history program. As national historian for the US Forest Service, he was previously involved with a variety of public history projects including films, websites, oral histories, interpretive planning, exhibit development, collections management, historic preservation, and heritage tourism initiatives. Before joining the Forest Service, Shapiro was Assistant Director of the Scholl Center for Family and Community History at Chicago’s Newberry Library where he served as academic director for two Department of Education Teaching American History grants, working cooperatively with the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago-area cultural and non-profit institutions.

Shapiro received his MA and Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago and a BA in History from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to The Lure of the North Woods, Shapiro is the author of numerous articles and projects exploring public and environmental history. He is particularly interested in questions regarding the intersection of people and place, changing perspectives of the cultural and natural landscape, and connections between memory, heritage, and public historical interpretation. His research explores questions about the history of land use and environmental change, modern environmental politics, the relationship between work and leisure, and broader cultural transformations in twentieth century urban and rural America. Shapiro has particular research interests in the history of the modern United States, public history, environmental history, global heritage, historic preservation, history and new media, and oral history. He has served as chair of the Education Committee of the American Society for Environmental History and on the Alabama Historical Commission National Register Review Board.

“Shapiro’s work is a fine example of regional history and a sensitive examination of the rise of tourism as a trade catering to the needs and desires of ordinary people rather than the rich. He combines good scholarship with good story-telling,” commented Joseph Fitzharris, chairman of the selection committee.

“Aaron’s book is a splendid example of the rich and varied topics that are awaiting exploration by a new generation of Midwestern historians, who will be inspired by his example,” added Midwestern History Association president Jon K. Lauck.

“We’ve been excited by the new, and much needed, attention to our region's history and culture represented by the founding of the Midwestern History Association and the inauguration of the Jon Gjerde Prize and are very proud to see this recognition of Aaron Shapiro’s The Lure of the North Woods as the kind of work those initiatives will encourage and recognize in the years ahead,” said Doug Armato, Director of the University of Minnesota Press.

The members of this year’s Gjerde Prize committee are Dr. Joseph Fitzharris of the University of St. Thomas; Greg Schneider of Emporia State University; and Margaret Sankey of Minnesota State University-Moorhead. The Gjerde Prize committee will soon be accepting nominations for its prize issued to books published in the calendar year 2014.

The Gjerde Prize is named for University of California-Berkeley historian Jon Gjerde, who wrote extensively about the Midwest and its immigrant peoples. Gjerde, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, earned his BA from the University of Northern Iowa and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota and went on to become the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History and American Citizenship at the University of California-Berkeley, where he also served as Dean of the Division of Social Sciences in the College of Letters and Science. Gjerde passed away suddenly in October 2008. In the fall of 2014, the MHA’s annual book award was named in his honor.


For more information on the Midwestern History Association, see the association’s website:

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