Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize, 2013

The Fritz Stern Dissertation Prize Committee awarded this year's prize to Dr. Ricky W. Law for  his dissertation "Knowledge is Power: The Interwar German and Japanese Mass Media in the Making of the Axis" (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2012). 

The committee's prize citation read: 

"In this impressively researched, elegantly written, and ambitious project, Dr. Law approaches the German-Japanese alliance (the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936) from a variety of angles and perspectives, offering an approach from cultural and intellectual history to issues traditionally dealt with by diplomatic historians. Law's work recasts the German-Japanese relationship before and during World War II from the conventional view of it as a logical alliance between aggressive, authoritarian dictatorships. He points out that the alliance was actually rather surprising at the time, especially because of German "racial" chauvinism and Japanese sensitivity. The alliance thus needs more explanation than historians have yet provided. Rather than turning to high diplomatic concerns, Law centers his attention on how the German and Japanese publics came to see an alliance as not only politically expedient but also reflective of shared or at least complementary cultural norms and traditions. In doing so, he provides a panoramic view of German and Japanese mass culture that offered consumers images of the other—newspaper coverage, films, non-fiction books, lectures and pamphlets, voluntary associations dedicated to the study of the other and even instructional materials for learning a foreign language—and shows how the two nations imagined and constructed each other in the years leading up to and during the alliance. To be sure, as subjects within authoritarian regimes, members of the German and Japanese publics played no role in signing the Anti-Comintern Pact. Yet Law shows a shift in popular culture that, he argues, made this alliance increasingly appear both tolerable and natural.

The committee was impressed by Law's extensive research in both German and Japanese sources. His facility with both languages is clear and is a major achievement in itself, but even more impressive is the depth and comprehensiveness of his research, as well as his mastery of a historiographic landscape that includes a range of subfields (e.g., film history and the history of publishing) Law's sensitive and imaginative treatment of source criticism and creative framing of his project around different forms of media provides a thoughtful model for other cultural historians. In sum, the committee members find Law's approach to international relations innovative and compelling and believe that his findings will be of great significance to both German and Japanese historiography."

Prize Committee Members:
Ann Goldberg (Chair), University of California at Riverside
Paul Lerner, University of Southern California
Jesse Spohnholz, Washington State University (currently: Free University Amsterdam)