Frederick Baumann Essay Prize
The Frederick Baumann Prize recognizes excellence in education by encouraging Grinnell college students to explore ideas and society in an interdisciplinary and historical context. Established in 1993 and funded by David '51 and Audrey Lowe '52 Hammer, the prize distinguishes the dynamic classroom contributions of Frederick Baumann, professor of history at Grinnell from 1927 to 1954. The prize is awarded each spring to the student who writes the best essay -- taking an interdisciplinary and historical approach -- on the general topic of "Ideas and Society."
Frederick Baumann joined the Grinnell faculty in 1927. He retired in 1954 but continued to teach one course each year until 1966. Born and raised in Elgin, Ill., Baumann received a Ph.D. in English and a M.A. in history from the University of Chicago, as well as a Ph.D. in history from Cornell University. He studied under noted historians at Chicago and Cornell: James Westfall Thompson, Preserved Smith, and Carl Becker. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the American Historical Society, the Iowa Historical Society, and the Far Eastern History Association. In May 1917, Baumann enlisted in a Red Cross ambulance unit. He served in Italy and in 1919 was awarded the Italian Cross of Merit. After the war, he taught at the New Mexico Military Institute and Carleton College before joining the faculty at Grinnell. He died June 30, 1967, of a heart attack.
It is appropriate that a $2,500 prize offered in Baumann's memory emphasizes the history of ideas. Baumann was particularly interested in the relationship of ideas to society. As a historian, he believed that every movement of ideas, every intellectual discipline, was rooted in changing social realities. His famous course, "History D10, Evolution of the European Mind and Society," which he taught until 1960, dealt with the social and historical basis of religious, political, and scientific ideas. Baumann's intellectual interest in the Renaissance -- especially in the Utopian ideas of Sir Thomas More -- reflected his concern with the changing role of religion in post-medieval European society. Baumann taught an interdisciplinary course, "Historical Studies," until 1966. His attention to the American historian Charles Beard -- whose famous book about the economic interpretation of the constitution revolutionized American historical thinking -- reflected his own belief that economic realities underlay most political ideas. Vivid speech and strong metaphors were Baumann's forte. One of his former students, Mike Alft '49, created a list of "Baumannisms" -- Baumann's observations about many things. A few of his more notable epigrams are:
- "I say what I think, and I say it emphatically."
- "When you use a tool, remember the tool shapes you as much as the object upon which the tool is employed."
- "Knowledge isn't appreciated until it is labored over. Read the book!"
- "History is life, human life. You are nothing except as history has entered into you. Life is not rational or logical, but historical."
- "Political institutions are nothing when confronted with economic realities."
- "Seniors, hail and farewell. The world which you are about to enter is hard, crass, selfish, and brutal, and most of you aren't prepared for it."
Although humor embellished his classes, Baumann challenged students and pressed them to do their best. He maintained a lasting concern for honesty, integrity of spirit, and vigorous intellectual discipline. Baumann was determined to teach students to think, more than once observing that most people thought they were thinking when they were merely conscious. A strong individualist, Baumann believed it was important to shake his students into examining things apart from an inherited perspective.
Application and Selection Criteria
Students from any department and any class may compete for the $2,500 prize which is awarded to the student who writes the best essay on the general topic of "Ideas and Society," taking an interdisciplinary and historical approach. The prize is awarded each spring if, in the opinion of the judges, there is an entry of prize-winning caliber. For the purposes of this contest, an essay may be defined as a prose discourse on a well-defined subject that presents in a stimulating, entertaining, as well as informative way the personal view of the author. Essays can be based on course work or independent study but should not be work previously submitted in connection with a course. Essays should be 15 to 20 double-spaced pages. All applicants are encouraged to take their essays to the Writing Lab for assistance. Students who wish to enter an essay in this competition should submit the following to the Office of Social Commitment, 1233 Park St., by Monday, February 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm. Because the CRSSJ (1233 Park St.), which houses the Office of Social Commitment, is inaccessible to students with mobility disabilities, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like make alternative plans to submit your application materials.
- A Baumann Essay Prize Cover Sheet 2013.
- A short abstract of the essay.
- A one-paragraph description of the genesis of the essay, describing where the idea for it came from, and any previous work by the student on which this essay may be based.
- A Scholarship Nomination Permission Form and Waiver.
- The 15-20 page essay, formatted to follow these submission guidelines.
An interdisciplinary committee of three faculty members will judge the essays.
Past Baumann Essay Prize Winners
Examples of past winning essays are available online.
- 2011-12: Laura Stamm '12: "'Personal Problems are Political Problems': The Gendered History of Disordered Eating"
- 2010-11: Erica Seltzer-Schultz '12 and Michael Goldfein '12: "Zionism, Liberalism, and Young American Jews: How Redefining the American Zionist Could Help Bring Peace to the Middle East"
- 2009-10: Joseph Maloney '12, "Managing the Faithful: The Internal Labor Market of the Roman Catholic Church."
- 2008-09: Katherine Lee '09, "Transcendence and Myth in Science and Religion."
- 2007-08: Nathan Redman '09, "Assaying Our Western Inheritance: Enlightenment Ideals and the Case of Haiti."
- 2006-07: Alexandra Kieffer '08, "Music and Metaphor: Legacies of Representation in Abstract Instrumental Music"
- 2005-06: Desire Takawira '06, "Speaking Without Fear: How DId Zimbabwe Come to This?"
- 2004-05: Uday Chandra '06, "On Ethics and Economics"
- 2003-04: Elizabeth Allan '04, "The Monumental Shift: Poetry, Politics, and the New Aesthetic Order in American Memorial"
- 2002-03: Rachael A. Copland '05, "On the Necessity of the First Amendment: The Possibility of Progress in Society Today"
- 2001-02: Joseph C. Hansen '05, "The 'Unwieldy and Overgrown Establishment': The Lack of Aristotelian Moderation in 21st Century America"
- 2000-01: Melissa Yates '01, "Between Poetry and Positivism: Alexis de Tocqueville's 'Social Science.'"
- 1998-99: Michal Dziegieliwski '99, "The Rwandan Genocide: Historical Narratives and Ethnic Violence"
- 1996-97: Thomas Taylor '98, "Memetics: A New Model of the Evolution of Ideas"
- 1993-94: Jill Cetina '94, "Public Discourse and Social Tolerance: New Ideas for Russian Society"
All applicants are expected to adhere to these ethical guidelines.