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U.S. Postal Service honors two from UW-Madison

March 30, 2010

The U.S. Postal Service has given both of its awards for scholarship on the history of the American postal system to University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers.

Law professor Anuj Desai took the senior prize for work by faculty members, independent scholars and historians. Desai earned the award for two articles, “The Transformation of Statutes into Constitutional Law: How Early Post Office Policy Shaped Modern First Amendment Doctrine” and “Wiretapping Before the Wires: The Post Office and the Birth of Communications Privacy.”

“I was trying to understand something about constitutional doctrine and found that it was impossible to understand without a study of the way in which the post office shaped that doctrine,” Desai says of his research.

Philip Glende, a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, took the junior award for work by undergraduate or graduate students for an essay, “Victor Berger’s Dangerous Ideas: Censoring the Mail to Preserve National Security During World War I.”

“The post office was the nation’s first communication network,” Glende says. “The suppression of dissident publishers such as Victor Berger of Milwaukee clearly demonstrated the continuing importance of the post office for the free flow of ideas in the early 20th century.”

Glende received his award at a recent ceremony at a Madison post office; Desai, who is on leave in China this year, will receive his award when he returns.

“The U.S. Postal Service only gives out two of these awards each year, so it’s a unique distinction that UW–Madison researchers have received both honors,” says Greg Downey, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and historian of information technology, who was on hand when Glende received his award. “In this new age of global online media, it’s more important than ever to study how the longtime practices of the U.S. Postal Service helped shape the way we still conceptualize information networks and the work necessary to maintain them.”

The awards are named for Rita Lloyd Moroney, who began conducting historical research for the Postmaster General in 1962 and later served as the U.S. Postal Service historian from 1973-91. They are intended to raise awareness about the significance of the postal system in American life.