History professor earns best book award from Georgia Historical Society

KENNESAW, Ga. | Nov 28, 2018

Bell Award given to Tom Okie for book on the Georgia peach

William Thomas Okie, associate professor of history and author of “The Georgia Peach: Culture, Agriculture, and Environment in the American South,” was honored Tuesday with the Bell Award from the Georgia Historical Society, becoming one of two individuals recognized in 2018 for books published in 2016 and 2017.

The Bell Award is the highest publication award given by the organization and recognizes the best book on Georgia history published in the previous year. The award, established in 1992, is named in honor of Malcolm Bell Jr., and Muriel Barrow Bell for their contributions to the recording of Georgia’s history. 

William Thomas Okie

KSU President Pamela Whitten, Associate Professor of History Tom Okie, and Georgia Historical Society President and CEO W. Todd Groce

“I’ve admired what the Georgia Historical Society has done for Georgia history, and I’m honored that they’ve selected my book as a prize winner,” said Okie.  “Looking at previous award winners, I see mentors and role models, senior scholars and seasoned journalists, so it’s humbling to be included in that company.”

Published by Cambridge University Press in 2016, Okie’s book explores how the peach – one of Georgia’s most visible symbols – emerged as a commercial crop and as a cultural icon, despite the fact that this non-native fruit has all but disappeared as a Georgia crop. The book explores how the myth of the Georgia peach was created and its staying power as a cultural icon.

“This is the first time that the Georgia Historical Society has awarded co-winners, and I’m delighted that we have such outstanding research and scholarship,” said W. Todd Groce, president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society. Okie shares the award with Andrew Denson, associate professor of history at Western Carolina University and author of “Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest Over Southern Memory.”

William Thomas Okie

Groce added that Okie’s book has set the standard for incorporating cultural issues into environmental history.

This is Okie’s first scholarly attempt at taking an everyday object and showing the layers of historical time that have shaped that object and how we view it.

“The peach is a historical artifact. It has changed over time due to both human and non-human factors: consumer tastes, labor markets, cross-pollination efforts, agricultural policy, weather patterns, insects, fungi, hogs,” Okie said. “I hope the book helps people to pay attention to the world around them and to remain curious about commonplace things.”

Bell Award

Okie, who joined Kennesaw State University in 2013, currently teaches American history, food history and history education. Trained in environmental and agricultural history at the University of Georgia, he has produced work that has won prizes from the Society of American Historians, the Southern Historical Association and the Agricultural History Society.

– Tiffany Capuano

Photos by David Caselli

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