The history department would like to congratulate senior Kevin Cryan on winning the 2015 Kouguell Prize for his senior thesis, “Welding the Nation: An Experiment in Associational Government During the Great War.”
“Welding the Nation” re-envisions the purpose of American war-work during World War I by examining one federal agency and its state affiliates, the State Councils of Defense. Previously dismissed by scholars as the epitome of inefficient bureaucracy, this thesis argues that the federal government had no serious expectation that the large, lumbering, and decentralized state councils would contribute materially to winning the war. Based on extensive research in the federal archives, especially the agency’s internal correspondence, this study finds that the councils were modeled on the organizational culture of private associations like the Rotary Clubs. This culture was well suited to achieving the agency’s paramount aims: fostering patriotic support for the federal government by drawing as many Americans as possible into the war effort. It did not matter whether or not state councils delivered practical services, so long as its impressively large membership felt invested in the war’s outcome. While hardly rehabilitating the reputation of state councils, this thesis does find a method in their madness. Congratulations, Kevin!