Professor Sandage is a cultural historian who specializes in the nineteenth-century United States and in the changing aspects of American identity. He is the author of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (Harvard University Press, 2005), on which playwright Arthur Miller commented, “I found Born Losers a confirmation of an old belief that in American history there is a crash in every generation sufficient to mark us with a kind of congenital fear of failure. This is a bright light on a buried strain in the evolution of the United States.”
Born Losers was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” book by the Atlantic Monthly magazine and was awarded the 34th Annual Thomas J. Wilson Prize, for the best “first book” accepted by Harvard University Press. Three translations of the book came out in 2007, in Japan, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China. Also in 2007, HarperCollins published Professor Sandage’s abridgement (with new introduction and annotations) of Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America.
As a teacher, he regularly teaches an undergraduate lecture survey of United States history, small courses on the rise of individualism and on political humor, and “The Roots of Rock & Roll, 1870-1870” which combines lecture and discussion to explore the social and cultural history of converging black and white musical traditions after the Civil War. At the graduate level, Professor Sandage teaches historiography and research courses and is currently advising four doctoral dissertations.
Active as a public historian, he has been a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the National Park Service, the Kentucky Historical Society, an off-Broadway play, and film and radio documentaries. In 1999-2000, Professor Sandage chaired a panel of scholars to recommend an inscription for the “wheelchair” sculpture belatedly added to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. In 2004, he was invited to contribute an essay on loserdom to the catalog of the Whitney Biennial Exhibition. Since 1998, he has been an elected member of the board of directors of the Abraham Lincoln Institute, in Washington, D.C. In 2006, he was elected to membership in the American Antiquarian Society. He is co-editor of the “American History and Culture” book series for New York University Press.
Professor Sandage has been interviewed in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Business Week, Fast Company Magazine, Cabinet and the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, among other mainstream periodicals, and has been a guest on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Radio Hong Kong, Radio New Zealand, Radio National Australia, Wisconsin Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio, “The Tavis Smiley Show” (PBS), “History of Book TV” (C-Span), and other radio and television programs.
Professor Sandage was selected for Carnegie Mellon’s Elliot Dunlap Smith Award for Distinguished Teaching and Educational Service in 2006. He has also received a 2007-2008 senior faculty fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the 1998 Jameson Fellowship from the Library of Congress and the American Historical Association, and the 1995-1996 Dissertation Prize from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools. His study, “A Marble House Divided: The Lincoln Memorial, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Politics of Memory, 1939-1963” (Journal of American History, June 1993) won best article prizes from the Organization of American Historians and from the Eugene V. Debs Foundation.
In 2007, he was named one of America’s “Top Young Historians” by the History News Network.
Professor Sandage’s next book project, Half-Breed Creek: A Tall Tale of Race on the Frontier, 1804-1941, centers on a Nebraska reservation established for “half-breeds” (families with Native American and white or African-American ancestry), to explore how the law, the federal government, field anthropology, folklore, popular culture, and science have fostered conflicting narratives that have shaped racial identity in the United States.