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In recognition of Sara Jackson’s commitment to students of color and graduate research, the WHA provides an annual award of $500 in support of graduate student (M.A. or Ph.D.) research on the North American West. The award has been endowed by the friends and colleagues of Sara Jackson. Preference will be given to African American or other students of color.

Applicants should send a letter of application, cv, a description of their research project (500-750 words), and a letter of support from their faculty adviser to each member of the committee listed below. 

-2024 Awards Cycle opens January 15, 2024

-2024 Award Submission (Postmark) Deadline: June 15, 2024

The WHA office sends notifications to selected award recipients at the end of August. 


Matt Basso, Chair
University of Utah

Yu Tokunaga
Kyoto University

Robert Chase

Stony Brook University



2023 | Catherine ʻĪmaikalani Ulep, University of Minnesota

2022 | No Award Presented

2021 | Adrian Chavana, University of Minnesota

2020 | Divana Olivas, University of Southern California

2019 Katherine Bynum, Texas Christian University

2018 | Lora M. Key, University of Arizona

2017 | Neama Alamri, University of California, Merced

| Nakia Parker, University of Texas at Austin

2015 | Quin'Nita Cobbins, University of Washington

2014 | Bernadette Perez, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2013 | Margaret Huettl, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

2012 | Michael Slaughter, University of California, Los Angeles and Jameson R. Sweet, University of Minnesota

2011 | Alfred Flores, University of California, Los Angeles

2010 | Jean-Paul deGuzman, University of California, Los Angeles

2009 | Juliette Maiorana, University of California, San Diego

2008 | Rose D. Soza War Soldier, Arizona State University

2007 | Veronica Martinez-Matsuda, University of Texas at Austin

2006 | No Award Presented

2005 | Marc Allan Goldberg, University of Wisconsin

2004 | Stella Mancillas, University of California, Davis

2003 | Melody Miyamoto, Arizona State University

2002 | Rudy P. Guevarra, Jr., University of California, Santa Barbara

2001 | Daniel Widener, New York University

2000 | Matthew C. Whitaker, Michigan State University

1999 | William J. Bauer, Jr., University of Oklahoma

1998 | David A. Y.O. Chang, University of Wisconsin, Madison

1997 | M. Lorena Chambers, University of Michigan

1996 | Eric Avila, University of California, Berkeley

1995 | Alisha I. Rodrίquez, Claremont Graduate School

1994 | Susan Miller, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

1993 | Rebecca Bales, Arizona State University



In 1944 Sara Dunlap Jackson became one of the first African American professionals hired by the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where she specialized in western, military, social and African American topics.  She continued at the Archives until her retirement in 1990. In the following memorial tribute, University of Maryland historian Ira Berlin recalls the remarkable contribution of Sara Dunlap Jackson.

While we recognize and remember Carter G. Woodson as the “Father of Afro-American History,” we often do not recognize giants who facilitated the researching of this history: Sara Dunlap Jackson was a giant among us. This article is dedicated to her and the exceptional reference service provided to those seeking Afro-American history in federal records.

Sara Jackson entered the National Archives in 1944, fresh from a degree from Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina, and Johnson C. Smith College in North Carolina. She had been trained as a teacher, but wartime events seemed to promise more than offered by teaching in the segregated classrooms of her native South. Still, the “colored only,” signs were much evidence in Washington, and the racial division of labor that segregation imposed did not promise much for the young black woman from a small black college in 1944. Sara quietly took up residence deep in the recesses of the Archives’ stacks with little fanfare, and it seems probable that her superior had no sense that Sara’s stay would make a difference to the Archives of the United States, let alone the history of the United States. It has.

Sara did not rest easy in the silence of the stacks. Things were rarely quiet where she took her place. She soon began reading her way through the voluminous aisles: the War Department, the U.S. Army and Navy, the Adjutant General’s Office, the Engineer Department, the Bureau of Colored Troops, and of course, the Freedmen’s Bureau. As no one else—before or since—she mastered them. Her curiosity and determination fused the role of archivist and scholar in a single person, although Sara had no special training in either. In the end, as any one who followed in her wake down the Archives’ stacks understood, Sara Jackson did not know the records of the National Archives, she understood them. When she spoke, they spoke back—perhaps they were the only ones who dared. This archival assistant, without academic degree or scholarly paraphernalia, became one of the most knowledgeable historians of American life.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the study of American history began to stir—pushed by the same changes that were arousing Americans anew to the sad facts of racial inequity and injustice. A new generation of historians, understanding that transformation of the American present required the transformation of the American past, took up the challenge of rewriting our history. When they arrived at the National Archives, Sara Jackson was ready. Before long, the lines before Sara Jackson’s desk were lengthening, as they queued up—chaired professors from great universities with long bibliographies and greenhorn graduate students with blank note cards.

She directed them, gently through the power of suggestion and, then, if they did not get the point—well, Sara had her way. Armed with knowledge squeezed from the records, scholars began to write a new history of the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that history rests, to a considerable measure, on the work of Sara Jackson, for Sara Jackson was a great teacher. In my own case, sometimes I think the Freedmen and Southern Society Project was just an attempt to remember what Sara had forgotten.

The young historians and archivists who were taught by Sara Jackson—her boys and her girls—and I proudly number myself among them—learned many things, and not all of them came out of a Hollinger box. Some of these lessons about how the title on the door often belied the activities behind the door. Sara Jackson, despite her sure knowledge, remained an archivist technician long after her abilities outgrew that title.

There were lessons on human relations, for no one in the National Archives, from the Archivist of the United States to the greatest technician, did not know Sara Jackson, and generally what they knew they liked. Not that Sara was easy or undemanding: quite the opposite. Sara did not countenance fools gladly. She was impatient, and she exacted a price. Hidden agendas would not be accepted. The book had to be open. Honesty, had to be repaid with honesty, generosity with generosity, and friendship with friendship. But if the rules were hard, few did not willingly play, perhaps because we also knew the game was fixed, and Sara guaranteed everyone would be a winner. No one would be more honest, generous, and loyal than Sara.

The following article is reprinted, with permission, from Sources: Ira Berlin, “Dedication: In Memory of Sara Dunlap Jackson, May 28, 1919-April 19, 1991” in Prologue Magazine, 29:2 (Summer 1997).  

Western History Association

University of Kansas | History Department

1445 Jayhawk Blvd. | 3650 Wescoe Hall

Lawrence, KS 66045 | 785-864-0860 

The WHA is located in the Department of History at the University of Kansas. The WHA is grateful to KU's History Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for their generous support!