The dinner featured presentations from Bancroft winners Erskine Clarke, Odd Arne Westad, and Sean Wilentz, for books which examined, respectively, the interconnected communities of slaves and slaveholders on a Georgia plantation, the global impact of the Cold War, and the 19th-century development of American democracy. Remarks on the winners were provided by James Neal, University Librarian and Vice President for Information Services; Professor Alice Kessler-Harris, Chair of the Columbia History Department; Alan Brinkley, University Provost; and Henry Pinkham, Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
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 2006 awards were for books published in 2005. Clarke received the prize for Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic (Yale University Press); Westad for The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge University Press); and Wilentz for The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (Norton).
Professor Kessler-Harris introduced the winners, praising Clarke’s book for captuing “the saga of plantation life in all its complexity, its color, and its human cost,” Westad’s “epic history” for highlighting the complex cold-war legacies of social change and radicalization in the third world, and Wilentz’s “vivid, meticulously and widely researched, elegantly written” book for helping readers “grapple with the continuing question of the meaning of democracy.”
The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by the Columbia University Libraries.
“Over 200 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year,” said University Librarian James Neal. “Once again, we were very impressed by the number of excellent submissions covering a broad range of themes, and are proud to honor this year’s winners....The Bancroft prize is a celebration and affirmation of historical scholarship, the library, the book, the academic press, and the reportedly threatened scholarly monograph.”
The dinner also honored the two Bancroft Dissertation Prize recipients. Beverly Gage, a 2004 Ph.D. in the Columbia History Department, was honored for “The Wall Street Explosion: Capitalism, Terrorism, and the 1920 Bombing in New York.” Roosevelt Montas, a 2004 Columbia Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature won the prize for “Rethinking America: Abolitionism and the AntebellumTransformation of the Discourse of National Identity.” Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sponsors the awards, which include $7,500 towards the publication of each dissertation.
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:
Erskine Clarke, author of Dwelling Place: A Plantation Epic, is Professor of American Religious History and Director of International Programs at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He is author of Wrestlin’ Jacob: A Portrait of Religion in the Old South (John Knox, 1979) and Our Southern Zion : Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690–1990 (University of Alabama Press, 1996). According to the Bancroft jury, “this deeply researched and beautifully written book returns the reader to the slave plantations of the Jones family...meticulously reconstructing the lives, cultures, and aspirations of four generations of slaves, as well as their relationships with their white owners....The result is a striking portrait of slavery as a lived experience.”
Odd Arne Westad, author of The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times, is professor of International History at the London School of Economics and head of the School’s Cold War Studies Centre. He is co-author of The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts (Oxford, 2003) and author of Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1945–1950 (Stanford, 2003). Bancroft jurors noted that “[t]he book shows how the ideological commitments of the United States (and the Soviet Union) led them to unexpected interventions in the Third World....Westad shows how central the Third World’s ambitions for development were to the global conflict between the two superpowers, and how that contest shaped what we now call the ‘global South.’ The result is a humane and bold history of the United States as a global force in the twentieth century, one that explains better than the standard histories the troubled post-Cold War world in which we live.”
Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln, is Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University and Director of the University’s American Studies program. He writes on U.S. social and political history, specializing in the early nation and Jacksonian democracy. He is author of Chants Democratic (Oxford, 1984) which won several national prizes, including the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association, and The Kingdom of Matthias (Oxford, 1994), and is a contributing editor to The New Republic. According to the Bancroft jurors, “the book delivers a gripping narrative of American voters and their chosen leaders grappling with securing their constitutional order, opening up economic opportunity, subduing the Indian population and excluding African-Americans, replacing gentry values with democratic ones, surviving contentious elections, and controlling violence in a lightly-policed nation. The book reflects how political history can be written in the aftermath of the social history revolution—not by ignoring the preoccupations of recent scholarship but by integrating them into a broad political narrative.”
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