Great Plains book prize goes to Hamalainen's 'The Comanche Empire'

Released on 05/13/2009, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., May 13th, 2009 —
Pekka Hamalainen
Pekka Hamalainen
"The Comanche Empire" dust cover

"The Comanche Empire" by Pekka Hamalainen, is this year's winner of the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize from the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

James Stubbendieck, director of the center, made the announcement May 6 at the center's annual meeting.

"I was in my office getting ready for a trip to New York, when Jim Stubbendieck called me to announce I had won the prize. I was absolutely thrilled by the news," said Hamalainen, an associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he teaches classes on North American borderlands and Native American history.

"The Great Plains award is a great honor, as it is, to my knowledge, the only such award given in the area of Great Plains. Receiving the award means a lot to me also because I spent three years at UNL, first as a Fulbright scholar, then as a research assistant for 'The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains,' where I had a chance to learn from and exchange ideas with great scholars like David Wishart and John Wunder. My years at UNL formed the core of my graduate training, so it was wonderful to be recognized by the UNL Center for Great Plains Studies."

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Comanche Indians created an empire that dominated the fiercely contested lands of the American Southwest, the southern Great Plains, and northern Mexico. "The Comanche Empire" challenges the idea of indigenous peoples as victims of European expansion and offers a new model for the history of colonial expansion, colonial frontiers, and Native-European relations in North America and elsewhere. Hamalainen shows how the Comanches built their unique empire and resisted European colonization, and why they fell to defeat in 1875.

Hamalainen, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Helsinki in Finland, did most of his research for the book in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. He obtained funding for this research from the William P. Clements Center in Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M University, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

"I have always found U.S. scholars to be extremely welcoming, supportive, and generous," said Hamalainen. "My family, friends, and colleagues have been very happy and excited about the attention and wonderful recognitions the book has received."

Hamalainen will receive a cash prize of $3,000 and will travel to UNL this fall to present a lecture on the topic of the book. "The Comanche Empire" was published by Yale University Press.

Judges for the book prize were UNL faculty members Melissa Homestead, Mark Burbach and Margaret Jacobs. Homestead said, "'Comanche Empire' turns what we thought we knew about the history of the Great Plains on its head. Masterfully drawing on a range of archival sources, Hamalainen creates a compelling narrative of the Southern Plains in the 18th and 19th centuries from a Comanche perspective, a period during which a Native empire competed with and often dominated the weaker European imperial powers with designs on Comanche territory. Certain to change how historians think about Plains history, the book's engaging and reader-friendly style also make it appealing to the general reader."

The Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize was created to emphasize the interdisciplinary importance of the Great Plains in today's publishing and education. Only first edition, full-length, nonfiction books published in 2008 were evaluated for the award. The other finalists were "The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building in Western Canada to 1915" by Sarah Carter (University of Alberta Press); "The Great Plains during World War II" by R. Douglas Hurt (U. of Nebraska Press); "The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns" by Stew Magnuson (Texas Tech University Press); "Bright Epoch: Women and Coeducation in the American West" by Andrea G. Radke-Moss (University of Nebraska Press); and "Rights in the Balance: Free Press, Fair Trial, and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart" by Mark R. Scherer (Texas Tech University Press).

The Center for Great Plains Studies is an interdisciplinary, intercollegiate, regional research and teaching program chartered in 1976 by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. Its mission is to promote a greater understanding of the people, culture, history, and environment of the Great Plains through a variety of research, teaching, and outreach programs. For more information, contact the Center for Great Plains Studies at (402) 472-3082 or visit its Web site (

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