Soviet historian receives top award
26 October 2012
Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick from the University's Department of History has been awarded the American Historical Association's 2012 Award for Scholarly Distinction, the first recipient with a focus on Soviet history.
The annual award is given to senior historians of the highest distinction who have spent the bulk of their careers in the United States. Professor Fitzpatrick is an Australian who has primarily worked overseas for the last 48 years. She has been affiliated with the University of Sydney since 2007.
The AHA Award for Scholarly Distinction is America's highest honour in historical studies, given to historians "whose work represents superlative originality, creativity and achievement".
Fitzpatrick, whose work focuses on Soviet social and cultural history in Stalinist Russia, modestly says receiving news of her award was "a nice start to my day".
"So many people I admire are on the list," she says, listing Carl Schorske, Eugen Weber, Arno Mayer, Peter Gay and Joan Scott as examples. "Two of my colleagues at Columbia University from the 1970s, Robert Paxton and Fritz Stern, [are also on the list]. I am honoured to be in their company.
"It has only once before gone to a Russianist, and never to a Soviet historian," she adds.
The award is the latest in a line of accolades acquired by Professor Fitzpatrick in 2012. She has also received the award for Distinguished Contribution from the US-based Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies and her memoir, My Father's Daughter: Memories of an Australian Childhood won Australia's Magarey Medal for Biography.
"Sheila is widely regarded as the most eminent Soviet historian in the world today and she has done more than anyone to shape that field," says Associate Professor Andrew Fitzmaurice, Chair of the Department of History. "Her work, and her bottom-up perspective upon history, has also had a great impact upon scholars beyond her own field."
Fitzpatrick took up post as an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney in July this year. She previously taught at Columbia University, the University of Texas and the University of Chicago, where she is now Emerita Professor.
"This has been the happiest transition period one could imagine," the 71-year old says of her move back to Australia.
Professor Fitzpatrick's love of history stems from her family. Both her parents were historians and her brother David Fitzpatrick is Professor of Irish History at Trinity College, Dublin.
Her interest in Soviet history was sparked when she was an honours student at Melbourne University in the early 1960s. "It was research on the history of Soviet music that really hooked me," she says.
Half a century on, Fitzpatrick is now working on a study of Soviet high politics, Stalin and His Team, as well as working on her second memoir, A Spy in the Archives, about her experiences as a young historian researching her dissertation in Moscow in the early 1960s.
Within the Department of History, she is lecturing in Soviet history, running workshops and seminars for postgraduate students and staff, and mentoring honours postgraduate students.
She will formally receive her AHA Award (in absentia) in New Orleans in January 2013.
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