Richard Rabinowitz wins the 2012 Feis Award from the American Historical Association

From American History Workshop:

American History Workshop is pleased to announce that its president, Richard Rabinowitz, has been awarded the 2012 Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history by the American Historical Association.

Since founding the Workshop in 1980, Dr. Rabinowitz has led creative teams of scholars, researchers, curators, designers, media producers, educators, and museum planners in more than 540 successful and innovative projects at sites like the New-York Historical Society, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati; and state heritage parks and local and regional historical societies in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

He has organized museum plans, exhibitions, and media presentations on immigration and ethnic community histories in Seattle, Tucson, and Wheeling; on urban development in Boston, Phoenix, Portland, Chicago, and Albany; on legal and constitutional history in Philadelphia; on the encounter of natives and newcomers in Ogallala and Spokane; and on American popular culture in Orlando and New York; among many others.

“From the beginning,” Dr. Rabinowitz says, “we have tried to combine the freshest historical scholarship and the best techniques of museum presentation to bring Americans closer to their history.”

In 2004-11, Dr. Rabinowitz curated and wrote six pathbreaking exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society, including Slavery in New York, Lincoln and New York, and Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. In these slavery exhibitions, Professor Ira Berlin of the University of Maryland noted that “Richard spun a meager collection of historical documents into a world-class show which not only told the story of slavery where few visitors believed it had existed but imbued that story with moral weight. It changed the way visitors thought about the past,” Berlin continues, “and the way they thought about themselves.” Dr. Louise Mirrer, president of the New-York Historical Society, judges that these exhibitions have “always been imaginative and attentive to history for the public rather than simply the history scholars – but at the same time intellectually challenging.” Reviewing these shows for The New York Times, critic Edward Rothstein wrote that one can “begin to feel the pulse of history itself, which is precisely what a historical society might well set as its goal and which is, here, handsomely achieved.”

The AHW team also drew up plans for the Slavery and Freedom exhibition at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015. Dr. Rabinowitz is now Research Scholar at the Gilder Lehrman Center for Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, where he also directs the new public history institute that brings together scholars, students, and museum professionals engaged in the public interpretation of African American history.


A native of Brooklyn, Dr. Rabinowitz was educated in the New York City public schools and holds a BA summa cum laude and a PhD from Harvard University. He began his museum career 45 years ago as a costumed interpreter and educator at Old Sturbridge Village, an outdoor museum in central Massachusetts. Later, as the museum’s education director, he fostered the development of a nationally acclaimed hands-on learning program and curriculum project for visiting schoolchildren and their teachers. From 1977 to 1980 he served as a special assistant to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities on policy and program development.

A scholar of American social and religious history, Dr. Rabinowitz has taught at Harvard, Skidmore, and Scripps colleges. His book, The Spiritual Self in Everyday Life: The Transformation of Personal Religious Experience in Nineteenth- Century New England (Northeastern University Press, 1989), has been recognized as a “subtle and thoughtful analysis of what it has meant to be religious in America.” He has also written historical books and articles for children and for museum professionals.

Active in professional service, Dr. Rabinowitz has served on the editorial boards of The American Quarterly and The Public Historian. He now sits on the board of the Museum at the Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York City and on the Council of the American Antiquarian Society.

The Herbert Feis Award

The American Historical Association (AHA), founded in 1884 and the nation’s largest historical society with 14,000 members, promotes historical study in the United States through publications, teaching, advocacy, and networking. The AHA publishes the American Historical Review, the world’s most widely read and cited history journal. The Herbert Feis Award is named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning diplomatic historian and professor at Harvard and the University of Kansas. A well-thumbed copy of Feis’s The Road to Pearl Harbor has been in Richard Rabinowitz’s library since 1965. The Feis Award will be presented at the annual meeting of the AHA in New Orleans in January 2013.