Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, Carnegie Mellon University
Area of Research: Cultural and Nineteenth Century American History.
Education: Ph.D. Department of History, Rutgers University, 1995
Major Publications: Sandage is the author of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (Harvard University Press, 2005), which was awarded the 34th Annual Thomas J. Wilson Prize, for the best “first book” accepted by Harvard press. The paperback edition was published in 2006; a Japanese translation was released in 2007, and there are forthcoming translations in Chinese and Taiwanese, 2007-2008.
His abridgement of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America has just been published by HarperPerennial Modern Classics. His next book project, Half-Breed Creek: A Tall Tale of Race on the Frontier, 1800-1941, focuses on mixed-blood Native Americans to show how family folklore has shaped racial identity in the United States. Sandage is also the author or numerous journal articles and book chapters including: “The Gilded Age,” in A Companion to American Cultural History, ed. Karen Halttunen (London: Blackwell, forthcoming August 2007), and “A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939-1963,” Journal of American History, 80 (June 1993): 135-167; reprinted in Reynolds J. Scott-Childress, ed., Race and the Production of Modern American Nationalism (Garland, 1999), 273-311; and Charles Payne and Adam Green, eds., Time Longer than Rope: A Century of African American Activism, 1850-1950 (NYU Press, 2003), 492-535.
Awards: Sandage is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Elliot Dunlop Smith Award for Distinguished Teaching and Educational Service, Carnegie Mellon University, 2006;
Thomas J. Wilson Prize, for the best first book accepted by Harvard University Press in the calendar year, 2003;
Finalist, Elliot Dunlop Smith Award for Outstanding Educational Service, CMU, 2001;
Outstanding Faculty Member Award 2000-2001, CMU Greek Council;
Dissertation Award, Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools, for best dissertation, 1995-96;
Finalist, Allan Nevins Dissertation Prize, Society of American Historians, 1995-1996;
Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, Organization of American Historians, “Marble House Divided,” best graduate student article, 1993;
Bryant Spann Memorial Prize, Eugene V. Debs Foundation, “A Marble House Divided,” best article on social justice, 1992. National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, 2007-2008;
Humanities Instructional Software Initiative, Office of Technology for Education, Carnege Mellon, 2001-2002;
J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship in American History, American Historical Association and Library of Congress, 1997-1998;
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, 1998;
CMU Faculty Development Fund, 1997-1999;
Falk Fellowship Fund in the Humanities, CMU, 1996, 2003;
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in History, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, New York, N.Y., 1995-1996;
Smithsonian Institution Research Fellowship, National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C., 1996;
NEH Dissertation Grant, 1994-1995;
Littleton-Griswold Grant for Research in American Legal History, American Historical Association, 1994;
Mellon-Christian Fellowship in Business and Economic History, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va., 1993, 1994.
Sandage is active as a public historian, he has been a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the National Park Service, an off-Broadway play, and film and radio documentaries.
In 1999-2000, he chaired a panel of historians to choose an inscription for the wheelchair sculpture belatedly added to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.
He is co-editor of the “American History and Culture” book series for New York University Press.
His commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Industry Standard, and Fast Company Magazine, among other mainstream periodicals.
Three days before HNN informed me of this recognition, an e-mail query arrived from a scholar writing about failure and depression – the emotional kind. Did I have any thoughts on connections between them?
The truth is, such thoughts clouded much of the decade between earning my Ph.D. in 1995 and publishing Born Losers in 2005. Anyone who can count will see that gaping hole in my résumé, and anyone who knows me even distantly will vouch that I was barely seen or heard from for years. In the time span I took writing just one volume, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote all of Lord of the Rings.
Historians remember each other as much by topic as by name. “Whatever happened to that failure guy?” Everybody loved my topic; it had gotten me grants and a good job. Early on, colleagues ribbed me, “If you fail to finish your book, you’ll really have succeeded, right?” When they stopped kidding me entirely, it was no joke anymore.
The life crises of my thirties were no worse than anybody else’s. My 15-year relationship ended, a close friend died young, the puppy I got while writing my dissertation died old. A bewhiskered faculty mentor spun horror stories of promising historians who were denied tenure and now taught 6/6. To paraphrase my dad’s old suppertime rant: somewhere there were starving adjuncts who would just love to have my job.
I found a groovy Jungian shrink who burned incense during sessions – a barefoot hippie chick who helped me a lot, and I went on meds. The book just went on. The longer it took, the worse I felt, the better it had to be. I read somewhere that Niall Ferguson was born on April 18, 1964 – same day and year as I was.
Having created the monster that ate up my thirties, I managed to kill it a few months before turning forty. When my tenure case went through, my college Dean winked about “a last-minute reprieve from the Governor.” People started kidding me again.
My favorite review of Born Losers opened with a blunt acknowledgement that “delays in [the book’s] appearance fanned fears that Sandage, like many of his book’s characters, might himself fail in his undertaking.” I did fail, of course, just as anyone who tries to explain the past must fail. I took too long to understand that failure was no excuse for not finishing.
After discussing my depression in an NPR interview about the book, I got a lot of unexpected mail from people with their own failure stories. Evidently, it helped to know that Born Losers was not the work of some ivory professor impressed by his own success.
The foregoing should raise questions about naming me to any “top” list, but I am grateful to be called “young” and happier still to feel that way again. Replying to last week’s query about depression and failure, I thumbed Born Losers and was shocked to discover that I omitted that angle entirely. Go figure.
By Scott Sandage
About Scott A. Sandage