We are pleased to announce the two winners of the 2019 Manuscripts and Archives (MSSA) Diane Kaplan Memorial Senior Essay Prize. The prize recognizes outstanding senior essays on any topic, including Yale, based substantially on research using Manuscripts and Archives collections. More information, including a list of prize winners since the prize’s inception in 2003, can be found on the MSSA Prize website. Up to two prizes are awarded each year based on essays self-submitted for prize consideration by Yale College seniors. One-semester and two-semester essays from any department are eligible for consideration. Faculty and others may encourage submissions, but students must submit the essays themselves for prize consideration. Prize winning essays are published in EliScholar.
Samuel Bennett, a senior History major from Ezra Stiles College advised by Professor Beverly Gage, was awarded one of this year’s prizes for his essay ‘A Critic Friendly to McCarthy’: How William F. Buckley, Jr. Brought Senator Joseph R. McCarthy into the American Conservative Movement between 1951 and 1959. Bennett’s essay explores the fluctuations in the embrace of McCarthy by Buckley, a leader of movement conservatism in the U.S. and after 1955 the founder and editor of the influential conservative journal National Review. The essay examines the turbulent 1950s, during McCarthy’s efforts to expose what he regarded as Communist influences in the administrations of U.S. presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
Bennett deftly uses correspondence, editorials, and speeches from the William F. Buckley, Jr. Papers (MS 576) in Manuscripts and Archives to show how Buckley de-emphasized his public embrace of McCarthy following the senator’s rebuke by the U.S. Senate in December 1954, a crucial time for the launch of the National Review. The essay also explores the period immediately following McCarthy’s death in May 1957, when Buckley became a forceful and vociferous champion, in print and in speaking engagements, of the late senator’s fight against Communism. Judges in this year’s senior essay competition found Bennett’s thesis to be quite clearly articulated, and the structure of the essay clear and easy to follow. He made effective use of the secondary literature on the topic of Buckley and McCarthy, and did an excellent job at weaving in extensive citations from primary sources in the Buckley papers to bolster his arguments.
Ethan Swift, a senior History major from Pierson College, also advised by Professor Beverly Gage, was awarded the other of this year’s prizes for his essay Young Americans for Freedom and the Anti-War Movement: Pro-War Encounters with the New Left at the Height of the Vietnam War. Swift’s essay also drew heavily on the Buckley papers, though focused on a later era during the anti-war protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Coincidentally, this is the first time since the inception of these prizes in 2003 that both prize-winning essays utilized the same archival collection, which serves as a great indicator to future Yale senior essayists that there are many successful angles from which to approach an archival collection. Swift seeks to fill a gap in the historiography of the time period, much of which focuses on the efforts and tactics of anti-war activists. He mines the Buckley papers, especially materials relating to Buckley’s support in the founding in 1960 of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a conservative political group with chapters on U.S. college and university campuses. In addition, Swift explores the fascinating interplay between articles in the YAF monthly journal New Guard and correspondence over more than a decade with YAF leadership in the Buckley papers. He also makes and illustrates a novel and important point regarding the way that YAF members, in their brochures and advertising, co-opted for pro-war and recruitment purposes some of the tactics and graphical symbolism used by the New Left. Members of the judging committee were impressed by Swift’s sophisticated use of primary source materials, the logical and clear organization of his essay, and the new insights he contributes to the history of a very contentious time in American politics.
Members of the 2019 judging committee for the Manuscripts and Archives Diane Kaplan Senior Essay Prize were: Mary Caldera, Christine Connolly, James Kessenides, Bill Landis, Michelle Peralta, and Camila Tessler. The prize, a certificate and check for $500.00, is awarded to each winner at his or her residential college Commencement Day ceremonies.