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McCants receives 1996 Edgerton faculty award

Associate Professor Anne E.C. McCants of the Department of Humanities, an historian who specializes in early modern European social and economic history with a particular focus on the Netherlands, has been chosen by her faculty colleagues to be the 1996-97 recipient of the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award.

The announcement, which drew a standing ovation, was made at the April 17 faculty meeting by Professor Jeffrey H. Lang, chair of the selection committee, which included Professors Shigeru Miyagawa, Terry Orr-Weaver and Lawrence M. Wein.

The award, which carries an honorarium of $5,000, was established in 1982 as a permanent tribute to Institute Professor Emeritus Harold E. Edgerton for his years of "great and enduring support" for younger faculty members. It recognizes junior faculty members for distinction in teaching, research and service to MIT. Professor Edgerton died January 4, 1990.

Professor McCants, who holds the BA degree in economics and European studies from Mount Holyoke College (1984), the MA (1985) in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles and the PhD (1991) in history from the University of California at Berkeley, joined the MIT faculty as assistant professor of history in 1991. Four years later she was promoted to associate professor of history.

In responding to her colleagues for the award, Professor McCants gave a special thank-you to Professor Harriet Ritvo. "She has been a marvelous mentor to me. I don't think I would be here today if she hadn't been holding my hand at some point. I wish she was here today as well [Professor Ritvo is out of the country] to share in this." Professor McCants said she also was "extremely appreciative" to the dean's office "for spearheading a mentoring program for junior faculty."

Professor McCants has studied the diet and economic status of 17th-century Amsterdam orphans in an attempt to uncover how the Dutch dealt with social welfare and entitlements and balanced free markets, private charity and government relief in caring for their most unfortunate citizens.

Reading from the citation prepared by the selection committee, Professor Lang said:

"Throughout, her work has been highly original in its combination of nutritional, statistical and economic analyses with the more traditional analyses of a historian. Anne recently completed a book based on her research entitled Comfort Us Out of Your Surplus: Capitalism, Risk and the Provision for Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam. The reviews of her manuscript have been universally enthusiastic, describing it as a very significant and original work on the history of charity.

"Anne has been praised for her ability to combine the critical archival skills of a historian with the quantitative and analytical skills of an economist, which in turn allows her to gain better insight into the workings of society than could a historian working in the more purely descriptive tradition.

"In short, her work places her in the first rank of young economic historians."

The citation went on to describe Professor McCants as "an energetic, creative and effective teacher. During one three-year period, she created nine subjects including a freshman seminar, survey subjects in early modern European history, upper-level European history subjects, and a graduate colloquium given at Radcliffe College. Anne has greatly invigorated teaching about the pre-industrial world at MIT, and she has worked hard to integrate economic data with cultural and literary texts to show how historians work to combine different forms of evidence..

"In spite of her significant research and teaching activities, Anne has served the MIT community very well. She is at present: an undergraduate history major advisor and a history concentration advisor; the UROP coordinator for the history faculty; a member of the Computers-and-Humanities Group; a member of the Advisory Committee of the European Studies Minor; a member of the MIT Faculty Committee on the Undergraduate Program; chairman of the Curriculum Committee of the history faculty; and the MIT faculty representative to the Harry S Truman Scholarship Foundation. Remarkably, Anne has held most of these positions for several years or more.

"Finally, Anne is the faculty representative to the Board of Trustees of the Technology Children's Center, and she is the faculty resident at Green Hall."

Professor McCants has received several professional awards and currently holds the Class of 1957 Career Development Professorship at MIT.

President Charles M. Vest, who presided at the meeting, took note that the "infinitely long list of things that Anne does" includes serving as housemaster at Green Hall.

"I hope everybody understands that really is a tremendous life commitment on the part of faculty and I can testify first hand that she and her family maintain a truly extraordinary environment for the residents of that hall, and I want to particularly add a little emphasis to that point in your record, Anne," Dr. Vest said.

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