Awards & Honors

The National Humanities Medal


The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, by the National Endowment for the Humanities, honors up to twelve individuals or groups each year whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities.

Albert Marrin was awarded the medal in 2008 by the President of the United States “for opening young minds to the glorious pageant of history. His books have made the lessons of the past come alive with rich detail and energy for a new generation.”

Other Awards Include:

2012:  Flora Stieglitz Straus Award from the Bank Street College of Education to Flesh and Blood So Cheap for a distinguished work of nonfiction which serves as an inspiration to young people

2012: Amelia Bloomer Project annual list recognizing Flesh and Blood So Cheap as a well written book with significant feminine content

2012: Sydney Taylor Notable Book to Flesh and Blood So Cheap by the Association of Jewish Libraries

2011: National Book Award Finalist for Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Story of the Triangle Fire and its Legacy

2008: James Madison Book Award for Lifetime Achievement

2007: James Madison Honor Book Award for Saving the Buffalo

2005: James Madison Book Award in 2005 for The Great Adventure: Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America

2005: Best Book of the Year List, American Library Association for The Great Adventure Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America

2001: Carter G. Woodson Book Award - Secondary Level National Council for the Social Studies for Sitting Bull and his World

2000: The Boston Globe Horn Book Award - Non Fiction for Sitting Bull and his World

2000: Washington Post Children's Book Guild Lifetime Achievement Award

1995: Washington Post Non-Fiction Award for an outstanding lifetime contribution that has enriched the field of children's literature

1995: Washington Children's Book Guild Award

1995: Best Books, School Library Journal, for The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake

1994: SU Best Book and American Library Association (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults for Virginia's General: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War (1994)

1994: Boston Globe/ Horn Book Honor Book, 1994, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children 's Book Award, ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Association of Christian Public School Teachers and Administrators Honor Award, 1995, all for "Unconditional Surrender": U. S. Grant and the Civil War

1993: Western Heritage Award for best juvenile nonfiction book, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and Spur Award, Western Writers of America, both for Cowboys Indians and Gunfighters: The Story of the Cattle Kingdom

1988: Bookllst Editor's Choice and School Library Journal Best Books for The War for Independence – The Story of the American Revolution

1988: Booklist Editor's Choice for Aztecs and Spaniards: Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico

1986: Boston. Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book for Aztecs and Spaniards : Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico

1985: Notable Children's Trade Book selection, National Council for Social Studies and Children's Book Council, and Boston Globe/ Horn Book Honor Book, for 1812: The War Nobody Won

An Interview with Albert Marrin

By Eisa Nefertari Ulen

Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books

Eisa Ulen: In your nonfiction book Flesh and Blood So Cheap, you link the marginalized experiences of mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant sweatshop workers of the early 1900s with the experiences of mostly Asian immigrant sweatshop workers of the late 1900s.  One could make the case that undocumented workers doing all kinds of jobs throughout the United States are similarly exploited today. Does that mean that the reforms that were put in place after the Triangle Fire didn’t go far enough? What needs to be done to protect all workers, regardless of background, in this country right now?

Albert Marrin: The reforms of 1911-1912 were specific to New York, not nationwide, although they furnished a model. Also, they applied specifically to fire safety and other job-safety issues. Over the years, legislation has expanded the areas of working-conditions regulation, and an entire government agency, the Department of Labor, deals with these and related issues. Similarly, the Wagner Act of 1935, during the New Deal, gave unions the right to organize and strike. So, a comprehensive legal framework to protect workers is in place today. Thus, regardless of immigration status, the laws already on the books need to be enforced; and failure to do so brings contempt for law. Yet enforcement can be difficult because of the self-interest of powerful special interests: elected officials, unions, large-scale farmers, corporations.

EU: Your book concludes with descriptions of unsafe working conditions in Bangladeshi sweatshops that are strikingly similar to those at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory before the fire. Do you think we need an organized, international movement for workers’ rights, and, if so, are the similarities dispossessed workers face around the world strong enough to unite them? As you explain in your book, even African American women who were barred from regular employment in New York factories because of racial discrimination made the difficult decision to support striking Italians and Jews and not act as scabs. Could that kind of cohesion be achieved today, perhaps through the use of social media, or, would language, race, and nationality differences divide these workers and prevent an international coalition?

AM: There already exists an agency to protect workers' rights. It is the International Labor Organization (ILO), an arm of the United Nations. Its job is to address worker issues globally: wages, safety, child labor, forced labor, etc. However, though problems like child labor may be roughly similar, they arise from different cultures, with different histories and from different conditions. Thus, there is no universal, fits-all panacea for these problems. Solutions cannot usually be imposed from the outside; that is why interventionist "nation building" almost invariably falls short.  Also, governments may not look favorably on organized labor movements (or any popular movements) they cannot control. China comes to mind here.

EU: What do you think activists Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich would think of the Occupy Wall Street Movement? What about the ladies of the Mink Coat Brigade?

AM: It is hard to read the minds of people who died decades ago. Rose and Clara came out of a European socialist and revolutionary tradition. Can that be said about Occupy Wall Street? Yet, I suppose, if they could have seen into the future they might have said: "Those participating in the Wall Street protests are seeking to find a way for their voices to be heard about unfair conditions in their day. In our day, we sought the American Dream of equality of opportunity and the ability to rise through education and hard work; we wanted "Bread and Roses," a decent living and the chance to grow as persons. Today, as one Wall Street sign says, 'RIP American Dream.' In other words, they sense that the dream is slipping away due not only to an economic downturn, but to the corrupt marriage of money and politics. Yet, for all that, we learned that in our new country we had the inalienable right to express ourselves and organize our energies to bring about meaningful change. Today, too, we can use social media to link to one another and get our message across, though how effective that will be remains to be seen."

EU: One of the great achievements of your book is the vivid and detailed way you describe how “the other half lived” at the turn of the century, from the conditions in Europe that compelled so many to emigrate, to New York street life, family dynamics, and the everyday experiences of urban youth. What compelled you to write such a rich story of American life—and thus humanize the women and men who died on March 25, 1911?

AM: Writing is a serious business with me; it is my "calling," the thing I was born to do. Also, I have always been interested in how other people live and have lived; that is why I almost pursued a career in anthropology. Sometimes, my ideas for books are the natural outgrowth of books that I have already written. Sometimes, however, they come about in ways that are part of the mysteries of the human mind. They may come in dreams, or I may wake up in the morning with an idea. I can't explain how or why this happens. Perhaps the idea already lies beneath the level of consciousness, and sleep brings it to the surface.

EU: You conclude the chapter “A Stricken Conscience” with the many tributes to the Triangle Fire victims that take place annually in New York. What would be the best way for Americans all around the country to honor the legacy of Triangle?

AM: The way to honor the Triangle legacy is through humane, practical, ENFORCIBLE legislation that does not crush individual initiative and promotes the creation of good jobs.

Eisa Nefertari Ulen is the author of Crystelle Mourning, a novel described by The Washington Post as “a call for healing in the African American community from generations of hurt and neglect.” She is the recipient of a Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center Fellowship for Young African American Fiction Writers and a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. Her essays, exploring topics ranging from Hip Hop to Muslim life in America post-9/11 to contemporary Black literature to the gap between the Civil Rights generation and Generation X, have been widely anthologized.

Appreciation of Albert Marrin’s Body of Work

True Blue Focus on an Author December 2, 1999.
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books:

Without much in the way of fireworks, Albert Marrin is quietly establishing himself as one of the main chroniclers of American history for young people. While not all of his books have fit under that umbrella, most of them do in one way or another; one of the refreshing things about Marrin's scope is that his American history is more than just what's happened in the United States themselves post-revolution; he treats the history of the Americas, north and south and surrounding waters, and their place in the world. In twenty years of writing, he's amassed an oeuvre that covers subjects ranging from the war in Vietnam (America and Vietnam: The Elephant and the Tiger) to Drake's fearsome escapades on the Spanish Main (The Sea King), in biographies, examinations of particular events, and explorations of historic shifts.

Now chair of the history department at Yeshiva University, Marrin has impeccable credentials, but he uses his professorial skills for good rather than evil (perhaps recalling his days as a social studies teacher at the junior-high level). His use of primary sources and his rigorous employment of notes are second to none, and his ability to bring freshness to well-trodden literary ground such as Civil War battlefields reflects an excellent eye for arrangement and selection of material. It's ironic that that sounds like rather a dry and dusty talent, as it's one of the talents that keeps his books from being dry and dusty. The historian who just wants to write the good stuff and not plan the structure keeps the fun for him or herself; the one who does the hard labor makes it possible for the readers to join in the fun. And the professor, bless his historian's heart, can also write, conveying with every book a passion and enthusiasm for the making of history that most readers can slog through textbooks for years without ever encountering.

What's also somewhat ironic is that Marrin is reintroducing excitement to classic exciting history, history that thrilled readers of half a century ago but that has become somewhat passe since. Cowboys and Indians! Pirates! Incan gold! Marrin rescues these from the "been there, done that" stage that occurs after "tried and true" and keeps the old allure while giving the traditional components fresh context. Sir Henry Morgan (Terror of the Spanish Main) isn't just a swashbuckling and piratical figure but a stout colonial burgher out for the main chance, moving from bloodshed to bureaucracy and back again as he sees fit. Marrin's treatments of the Civil War (in Unconditional Surrender and Virginia's General) don't limn the famous at the expense of the rank and file, nor do they lose the politics in the war stories or the war stories in the politics. They're all, in Marrin's books, important parts of the larger current of history. The glorious sweep of that current is sometimes a hard thing to appreciate when you're just dipping your toes in it, but Marrin makes diving right in an exhilarating experience.

-Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor