The essay was published in the Journal of Women's History in June 2005. Wood said that she was surprised when she was informed through e-mail that she had received such prestigious recognition. She did not even know her essay was being considered for selection.
The OAH promotes “excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history." Its annual publication, The Best American History Essays, consists of 10 American history essays selected by a team of prominent American historians from more than 300 journals published in the preceding year.
"It means a lot when your work is recognized by other people who also study American history," Wood said. "You work on something for a long time, and it takes so long to finish it that the recognition is nice, very nice."
After writing a dissertation on a diplomat's wife in Mexico, Wood became interested in researching the lives of other wives in the U.S. Foreign Service. The award-winning essay explores the role of women and how gender is perceived by government officials – especially how wives of diplomats played an important role in U.S. representation overseas.
"It's part of a larger research project that I'm doing about the history of the U.S. Foreign Service in the first half of the 20th century," Wood said.
She soon discovered that no one had previously studied and compiled materials concerning the importance of diplomats’ wives. To gather information, Wood had to research government documents and State Department records stored in the National Archives. She found more detail than she expected, including some transcripts of interviews with the wives, personal assessments and private letters.
"[The diplomats' wives] had all these roles that they were expected to play: they were expected to be hostesses; they were expected to volunteer in the community; they were expected to dress appropriately, and to entertain other diplomats and to sort of have an ideal home,” Wood said. “The government seemed to believe that this was a very important part of how the U.S. was seen by other parts of the world.
"The most interesting thing that I found is that they were actually evaluated by State Department officials," she added. "How well she was doing her job often had an impact on whether her husband got a promotion or not in the Foreign Service. It was really interesting to find this kind of attention being paid to the wives, and nobody has ever looked at the kind of work that they were doing before. They really haven’t been explored by other historians, which I think is also interesting."
The OAH will announce the 10 best American history essays at its annual conference later this month, and the journal of winning essays will be published in April. It has been a long road, but Wood is pleased with the way things turned out.
"There were times when I was working on this project that I thought it would never end, and I thought I would never be able to finish," Wood said. "So not only did it feel good to finally finish, but it has given me motivation to also keep going with other projects. It also has reminded me how much fun it is to work in the archives.
"What I'm working on now is expanding the project into a book, and I'm not sure how long that will take, but I'm working on it."
Written By: Cristina Recalde '08
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