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Volker Janssen will be recognized for writing the best article of the year in the Journal of American History. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Best Article of the Year

Volker Janssen Wins Kudos for His Work in History Journal

February 23, 2010

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Volker Janssen will be recognized in April in Washington D.C. with the Organization of American Historians’ Binkley-Stephenson Award, which hails the Journal of American History’s best essay of the year.

His article, "When the ‘Jungle’ Met the Forest: Public Work, Civil Defense, and Prison Camps in Postwar California,” published in the December issue of the journal, was chosen from many written by his peers nationwide.

"It’s flattering recognition not just of my work, but also of the quality scholarship that Cal State Fullerton faculty members produce at a time when we are furloughed and described merely as the state’s 'workhorses' of higher education," Janssen said. "I can certainly speak for my department when I say that all my colleagues are demonstrating the intellect and scholarly rigor that are hallmarks for first rate scholarship. If this type of award helps raise our public profile as researchers and not just as overloaded instructors, then that is reward enough."

The Binkley-Stephenson Award, first given in 1967, is an annual award for the best scholarly article published in the journal. The winner receives $500. A list of past winners is available online.

Janssen's article is part of his larger research work on California Prisons. He is writing a book, "Convict Labor, Civic Welfare: Rehabilitation and Prison in Mid-Twentieth Century America,” that is scheduled to be published next year by Oxford University Press.

In it, he argues, that prisons "were part of a broad discourse over citizenship and the capacities of the state to return men from the margins to society and market."

"In the wake of World War II, California’s modern Department of Corrections guided the nation in its use of modern bureaucracy, public works programs, and behavioral sciences it had adopted from the armed forces," Janssen said. "With correctional industries and vocational training, therapeutic counseling and forest labor, prison administrators in California tried to ascribe white middle class ideals of full employment and nuclear family on a set of men who initially resembled the preferred clientele of the military welfare state — veterans. The rise of suburban conservative politics and the decline of the inner city, on the other hand, produced deep divisions as inflated fears of 'dangerous black men' came to replace the more benign 'James Dean' image of prisoners. In the wake of the Watts Riots of 1965, guards, prisoners, free citizens, and behavioral scientists contributed — often unwittingly — to the transformation of this penal crisis into a new form of mass incarceration that has formed the backbone of a new form of governance since the 1980s."

The assistant professor of history also serves as Cal State Fullerton's Fulbright Scholar adviser, helping students and alumni prepare for and apply for the prestigious study-abroad program.

Born in Germany, Janssen himself was a Fulbright Scholar as a UC San Diego doctoral student a decade ago.

He had arrived in the U.S. originally intending on earning his master’s degree in U.S. history and then returning to Germany to continue working in radio journalism.

“But the quality of the education here, and my exposure to archival work in my training as a historian really got me hooked on my discipline and the academic life here,” Janssen said. “My research interests concerned the history of California prisons, something I first looked into back at Hamburg University in Germany.”

As a result of the year he spent researching history as a Fulbright Scholar, he produced research papers and received the Best Graduate Student History Research Paper at U.C. San Diego two years in a row.

“It was the foundation for my publishing since then,” said Janssen, who joined Cal State Fullerton's faculty in 2005.

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