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BC Doctoral Student Hidetaka Hirota Wins OAH
Pelzer Award for Best Essay in American History

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (May 2012) Hidetaka Hirota, a doctoral student in history at Boston College, has been selected by the Organization of American Historians (OAH) to receive the 2012 Louis Pelzer Memorial Award, given annually for the best essay in American history by a graduate student.

OAH President Alice Kessler-Harris and OAH President-Elect Albert M. Camarillo presented the award to Hirota during the 105th annual meeting of the organization in Milwaukee in April.

Hidetaka Hirota
Hidetaka Hirota

Hirota, who holds a master's degree in history from BC and a bachelor's degree in foreign studies from Sophia University in Tokyo, studies the history of American immigration, with particular emphasis on the nineteenth-century United States, immigration policy, poverty and welfare, and transatlantic migration.

His winning paper, "The Moment of Transition: State Officials, the Federal Government, and the Formation of American Immigration Policy," which is scheduled to appear in the March 2013 Journal of American History, examines the role of states in the development of federal immigration policy.

"Hide Hirota has recently defended a brilliant dissertation on the history of immigration restriction in the nineteenth-century United States," added Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences David Quigley. "It's wonderful to see that the Organization of American Historians has recognized the originality and importance of this essay and the larger project."

"Winning the Pelzer Award, which includes publication in the flagship journal in the field, is a signal honor for Hide, the History Department, and the University," said History Professor Kevin Kenny, Hirota's advisor. "His scholarship makes significant contributions to three central questions in the history of American immigration: the nature and impact of anti-immigrant sentiment, the meaning of citizenship, and the origins of federal immigration policy. His work also has an intriguing, and at times deeply moving, transnational dimension that allows him to trace individual men, women, and children from Ireland to America as immigrants, and back across the Atlantic as deportees. The result is a powerful and finely crafted piece of historical interpretation."

"Professor Kenny has taught me how to read and write history," said Hirota, who attributes the success of both the winning essay and his dissertation to Kenny's guidance and support. "I am also very grateful to my friends in the History Department for critiquing drafts of the article," he said. "I feel privileged to work with my advisor, a leading historian of American immigration, and my talented colleagues at Boston College."

By examining the implementation of the Immigration Act of 1882the first national-level immigration legislation that applied to all aliens, prohibited the landing of paupers and criminals and included a deportation clause for the latter groupby state officials in New York and Massachusetts in 1883, during the time when the British government sent groups of destitute Irish to the United States, Hirota's artice "demonstrates that the federalization of immigration control was a more gradual and contingent process than historians have assumed," according to the OAH Pelzer Award committee.

"The article further argues that the roots of some of the practices that characterized later federal immigration control—such as temporary detention and medical inspection at landing stations and borders, and American officers’ hostile attitudes toward undesirable aliens—lay in state officials’ activities prior to the emergence of federal immigration law," the committee said. "State officials’ participation in federal immigration policy during its foundational period, therefore, provided a crucial bridge between state and federal supervision of immigration and determined the nature of the federal immigration control that developed from the 1880s onward."

Founded in 1907, the OAH is the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of the American past. The OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history. Members in the United States and abroad include college and university professors; students; precollegiate teachers; archivists, museum curators, and other public historians employed in government and the private sector.

For more information, visit the organization's website:

Patti Delaney is deputy director of the Office of News & Public Affairs;