Law professor's book wins political history honor


The latest book by Bill Novak has won the 2023 H. Wayne Morgan Prize from the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

The award recognizes “New Democracy: The Creation of the Modern American State” (Harvard University Press, 2022) as the best book on US political history from 1865–1929. Novak received the award at the recent Organization of American Historians Conference in Los Angeles.

According to the awards committee, “This hugely ambitious book recaptures the significance of the transformation in American governance that occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It situates the emergence of modern American democracy during those pivotal decades, cogently and elegantly demonstrating that fundamental reforms in the nature of citizenship, legal conventions, regulation, social welfare and the provision of public services were already in place before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. ... His book will be required reading for understanding the Gilded Age and Progressive Era origins of the modern American state.”

In an interview last year, Novak, who is the Charles F. and Edith J. Clyne Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, explained his motivation for the book: “From the anti-statism of Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address (“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”) to the Tea Party movement to today’s anti-vaxxers, we are all only too aware of just how many Americans remain profoundly—sometimes militantly and violently—unreconciled to the kinds of modern governmental regulation pioneered in the Progressive period. My book is an attempt to go back and chart the deeply rooted historical reasons for the rise of a modern American regulatory state in the first place.”

“New Democracy” follows up on Novak’s first book, “The People’s Welfare:  Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America.” Currently, he is working on a book that will cover the period of America’s founding, completing a historical trilogy.

Novak teaches in the fields of legal history, legislation, and regulation, and his research interests focus on the history of the modern American regulatory state.