Left to Right: Christopher Rossi, Rosemarie Ward, Valentina Fominykh, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, William Friedricks, and Simpson president John Byrd


Humanities Iowa named William Friedricks of Simpson College as the first winner of the Iowa History Prize.

The biennial award of $90,000 is funded by Humanities Iowa, the state affiliate to the National Endowment for the Humanities. In creating the award, HI intends to celebrate an Iowa history scholar and to promote a general public conversation about the state’s past.

"This award is not purely honorific," said Humanities Iowa executive director Christopher Rossi. "Iowa’s new public historian presented a juried proposal that he will now implement to better Iowans’ understanding and appreciation of Iowa history and fight against our encroaching historical amnesia."

"As a former high school government and history teacher, I experienced the important role social science plays in education and the positive impact it has on students," said Governor Chet Culver. "I congratulate Dr. Friedricks for his great work as a teacher, a researcher and an author. It's only appropriate that his accomplishments as one of the great scholars of our state's history led to his selection as the first recipient of this honor."

Friedricks, who received his doctorate in American history from the University of Southern California in 1986, started teaching at Simpson in 1988. After successfully revising his dissertation into the book, Henry E. Huntington and the Creation of Southern California, a Simpson trustee suggested that Friedricks write a book on the history of the Des Moines Register. That book sparked an interest in Iowa history that led him to found the Iowa History Center at Simpson in 2006.

"Bill is certainly an asset to the state of Iowa," said Simpson President John Byrd, who supported Friedricks’ vision of the Iowa History Center. "The great passion he has for his work will ensure that future generations of Iowans will understand and appreciate the history of this great state. Humanities Iowa made a wonderful choice in selecting Bill as the inaugural recipient of the Iowa History Prize."

Friedricks, himself, said he was "thrilled to be the first recipient of the Iowa History Prize."

"I am eager to get our programming started," Friedricks said. "At the Iowa History Center we intend to use the funding from the prize to jumpstart Iowa history."

Friedricks’ proposal includes everything from a free speaker series to grants to elementary schools to fund Iowa history field trips. He also has proposed an Iowa Oral History Project to record the stories of prominent Iowans and an Iowa History Center Press designed to publish works with an appeal to both an academic and a popular audience.

These projects are intended to spark an interest in Iowa history among the people of the Hawkeye state. Too often, Friedricks said, professional historians lose touch with those things that bring history alive to regular people.

"Many professional historians have abdicated their public role," Friedricks said. "Instead, they are sequestered away in colleges and universities, researching esoteric topics and writing in journals that are only read by other scholars in the field. Such research is advancing history, but it often does not make its way to the general public."

Convincing people of the value of Iowa history, in particular, can be a challenge. While some states like Kansas and Texas require the study of local history, Iowa does not.

"I’m not exactly sure why Iowa history hasn’t been stressed more," Friedricks said. "Maybe it’s the modesty of Iowans that discourages the study of our own past. Or maybe it’s the mistaken belief that nothing interesting or important ever happened here. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth, and Iowans should know that."

Friedricks added that the Iowa History Prize can do a lot to help drive interest in the state’s past.

"The Iowa History Prize is a great way to raise awareness of our history," Friedricks said. "It will encourage the teaching of Iowa history and promote new and interesting research in Iowa history. Hopefully, and most importantly, it will get Iowans talking about our history."

The blue ribbon panel of judges making the selection included Humanities Iowa board members, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library director Tim Walch, former State Historical Society senior historian Loren Horton, and UI history professor Leslie Schwalm. HI board president Valentina Fominykh chaired the committee.

"I believe that the Humanities Iowa initiative to inaugurate the Iowa History Prize is really historic," Fominykh said. "I believe it will rekindle the interest and genuine curiosity for Iowa’s history and heritage across the state. As it was once said: ‘We remain human beings as long as we remember our past.’"


Humanities Iowa is a grant making non-profit organization devoted to promoting understanding and appreciation of the people, communities, cultures, and stories of importance to Iowa and the nation.


"The Iowa History Prize is a great way to raise awareness of our history. It will encourage the teaching of Iowa history and promote new and interesting research in Iowa history. Hopefully, and most importantly, it will get Iowans talking about our history."

--William Friedricks
First Iowa History Prize winner

A few facts about
William Friedricks...

...Founded the Iowa History Center in 2006

...Author of several books on Iowa history including...

Investing in Iowa: The Life and Times of F.M. Hubbell

In for the Long Haul: The Life of John Ruan (2003)

Covering Iowa: The History of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Company (2000)

...Winner of the Iowa Reader Literary Award for best biography in Iowa history (for The Life of John Ruan)

...Three-time recipient of Simpson College Distinguished Research Award (1991, 2000, & 2006)

...Three-time recipient of honorable mention for the Benjamin Shambaugh Award for the best book on Iowa history (2001, 2004, & 2007)

...Honorable mention for the Throne/Aldrich Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa (1996)

...Winner of the Sesquicentennial Research Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa (1994-95)