Columbia University Libraries Announces the Winners of the 2019 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy

Columbia University Libraries has announced that two acclaimed works will be awarded the 2019 Bancroft Prizes in American History and Diplomacy: Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight (Simon & Schuster, 2018) and Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks (Yale University Press, 2018).

Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass is a monumental achievement and awe-inspiring example of the historian’s craft. The book offers a definitive portrait of Douglass as a man and a prophet, in all his fullness and imperfection, intellectual gifts, and emotional needs: self-made and scarred, loving and distant, defensive and proud, a thinker, searcher, fighter, leader, and visionary, the conscience of the century. At once admiring and revealing, Blight’s writing allows us to see the person whole, in all his human complexity and genius.

In Our Beloved Kin, her immersive account of the oft-studied colonial American conflict known as King Philip’s War, Brooks imaginatively illuminates submerged indigenous histories. Written with an experimental and imagistic beauty that resists the closure of more traditionally styled narrative histories, Our Beloved Kin draws readers into a spinning, complex, changing world of tensions, alliances, and betrayals centered on bids for land. Brooks approaches a daunting task – retelling a pivotal event that shaped an era – with an uncommon boldness, creativity, and spirit of collaboration.

The Trustees of Columbia University award the Bancroft Prizes annually. The winners are judged in terms of scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation that they present in the areas of American history and diplomacy. In all, 234 books were submitted for consideration for the 2019 prize.

The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by Vice Provost and University Librarian Ann Thornton. The 2019 Bancroft Prize jury included three distinguished historians: Stephanie McCurry, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Columbia University (Chair); Tiya A. Miles, Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard University; and Heather Ann Thompson, Professor of History and Afro-American and African Studies, College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, University of Michigan.  

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. In addition to Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, he is the author or editor of a dozen books, including American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, for which he won the 2002 Bancroft Prize; and annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiographies. He has worked on Douglass much of his professional life and has been awarded the Abraham Lincoln Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.

Lisa Brooks is Professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College. She is the author of The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and Our Beloved Kin. As a 2016-17 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow, she worked with a team at Amherst College to develop a digital companion to Our Beloved Kin, featuring ArcGIS maps, original documents, and place-based images. Although deeply rooted in her Abenaki homeland, Brooks’s work has been widely influential in a transnational network of scholars. She contributed to the collaborative volume, Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective (2008), and wrote the “Afterword” for American Indian Literary Nationalism (2006). In 2009, Brooks was elected to the inaugural Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). The Common Pot received the Media Ecology Association's Dorothy Lee Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Culture in 2011 and Brooks was honored in 2018 with the Maine Historical Society’s Neal Allen Award for exceptional contributions to Maine history. In additional to her books and contributions to numerous edited volumes, Brooks has published articles in American Literary History, the International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, Northeastern Naturalist, PMLA, Studies in American Indian Literatures, and William and Mary Quarterly. 

The Bancroft Prize was established at Columbia University in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a preeminent historian, librarian, author, and Columbia University lecturer. It is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history.