Former Clements Center Fellow Pekka Hämäläinen will receive SMU’s William P. Clements Prize for Best Non-Fiction Book on Southwestern America during ceremonies at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in SMU’s DeGolyer Library.
His award-winning book, The Comanche Empire (Yale University Press, 2008), is about the nation-changing power of the Comanche Indians. He honed the work during his 2001-02 fellowship in Dedman College’s William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies.
The $2,500 Clements Book Prize honors fine writing and original research on the American Southwest. The competition is open to any nonfiction book, including biography, on any aspect of Southwestern life, past or present.
Hämäläinen is the second former Clements Center Fellow to win the Clements Book Prize. Juliana Barr received the honor in 2008 for Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands (University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
“The Comanche Empire is a landmark study that will make readers see the history of southwestern America in an entirely new way,” said David Weber, Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and director of the Clements Center. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry has called The Comanche Empire “cutting-edge revisionist western history in every way.” The book has received numerous other awards, including a 2009 Bancroft Prize awarded by Columbia University.
McMurtry wrote in the New York Review of Books that Hämäläinen’s work spelled out a convincing argument that Comanche power is the missing link in the historical sequence that led to Spain’s failure to colonize the interior of North America and, ultimately, the decay of Mexican power in what is now the American Southwest. Citing Hämäläinen’s description of the political, economic and social organization of the Comanches, McMurtry wrote, “Blink a time or two and the reader might forget that the book at hand is about Comanches, rather than Microsoft.”
Hämäläinen, a native of Finland, received his Ph.D. in general history at the University of Helsinki and has been associate professor of history at the University of California-Santa Barbara since 2004. He notes in the acknowledgment section of The Comanche Empire that the book would not exist without the counsel and encouragement of Weber and the Clements Center manuscript workshop that brought together prominent scholars to discuss his project.