The winners, all distinguished history professors, are Edward L. Ayers, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863”; Steven Hahn, “A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration”; and George M. Marsden, “Jonathan Edwards: A Life.”
One of the most coveted honors in the field of history, the Bancroft is awarded annually by the Trustees of Columbia University to the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography and diplomacy. The 2004 awards are for books published in 2003.
Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger will present the awards to the recipients at a formal dinner April 21 at the University’s Low Memorial Library, hosted by the Department of History and the University Libraries.
“The Bancroft Prize singles out for distinction the most influential and scholarly books of the year that address the complexity of our country’s past and show how its events and leading figures helped to shape our present world,” President Bollinger said. “Without this illumination, we would be navigating today’s challenges without a compass.”
For the first time since the award’s establishment in 1948, the monetary amount of the Bancroft Prize will increase, from $4,000 to $10,000, according to James Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia, who administers the prize. The grant increase will “bring even greater visibility to this prestigious recognition of historical research and writing,” he said. Neal also noted that 180 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year, an unusually high number.
Edward L. Ayers, author of “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863” (W.W. Norton & Co.), is the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History and Dean at the University of Virginia. His first book, “The Promise of the New South,” was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist. “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” charts the descent into war as neighboring communities become enemies in the Shenandoah Valley, an area bisected by the Mason-Dixon Line. According to the Bancroft jury: “Few books have ever captured as well the connections between home front and battlefront.”
Steven Hahn, author of “A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. His earlier book on the roots of Southern populism received both the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians and the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians. Bancroft jurors described “A Nation Under Our Feet” as “a work of breathtaking ambition and scope [in which] Hahn traces the tortuous route followed by African Americans as they emerged from slavery and traveled through Reconstruction to Jim Crow and beyond.”
George M. Marsden, author of “Jonathan Edwards: A Life” (Yale University Press), is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He has written numerous books, including “The Soul of the American University” and “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship.” In his biography of Jonathan Edwards, Marsden brings to life this controversial American theologian, who was committed to fostering religious sensibilities in the increasingly secular world of his time. Bancroft jurors stated, “Moving easily from the expansive realms of transatlantic thought to the narrow precincts of town and gown squabbles, Marsden captures both the man and his times in all their color and complexity.”
For the first time, the awards ceremony will include recognition of the recipient of the Bancroft Dissertation Award, which supports the publication of a Columbia doctoral student’s dissertation. This year’s winner is David Suisman, who received his doctorate in history and whose dissertation, “The Sound of Money: Music, Machines and Markets, 1890-1925,” explores the birth of music as big business in the United States.
The Bancroft Prizes were established at Columbia in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, the historian, author and librarian of the Department of State, to provide steady development of library resources, to support instruction and research in American history and diplomacy and to recognize exceptional books in the field. To see a list of past winners, visit