Columbia University Libraries Announces the Winners of the 2023 Bancroft Prizes

The recipients of the 2023 Bancroft Prizes in American History and Diplomacy are (from left to right) Beverly Gage, Kelly Lytle Hernández, and John Wood Sweet. (Photo credits, from left to right: Kathleen Cei, Sebastian Hernández, Jafar Fallahi)

Columbia University Libraries has announced that three acclaimed works will be awarded the 2023 Bancroft Prizes in American History and Diplomacy: G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage (Viking, 2022); Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands by Kelly Lytle Hernández (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022); and The Sewing Girl’s Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America by John Wood Sweet (Henry Holt & Company, 2022).  

The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by Vice Provost and University Librarian Ann Thornton. The 2023 Bancroft Prize jury included three distinguished historians: Margot Canaday, Professor of History, Princeton University; Ada Ferrer, Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University; and Andrew Lipman, Associate Professor of History, Barnard College and Columbia University (Chair).

The jury made the following statement about this year’s winning authors:

“Beverly Gage’s stunning biography of J. Edgar Hoover, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, both perfects and transcends its genre. The first biography about Hoover written in 30 years, Gage has done exhaustive research in recently released materials that earlier biographers could not access and deftly used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as well. The result of this hard sleuthing, as well as of Gage’s formidable interpretive skill, is a Hoover pulled back from the villainous caricature that we thought we knew. … Villainizing Hoover lets the rest of us off the hook, Gage concludes, skillfully shifting her account from one man’s life to a history of the 20th century writ large, and never for a moment losing command of her vast subject.”

"Kelly Lytle Hernández’s Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire and Revolution in the Borderlands is an ambitious and exciting study of the Mexican Revolution as both Mexican and American history. Focused on the liberal-turned-anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón and the radical men and women that surrounded him, Lytle Hernández constructs a riveting story of revolution and counterrevolution that stretches from Mexico City to Saint Louis, Missouri. In the process, she gives us a history of the Mexican Revolution that is fundamentally, and indispensably, binational. … In Lytle Hernández’s telling, it is impossible to understand the Mexican Revolution without a sustained engagement with events north of the border, just as it is impossible to understand history north of the border without understanding the Mexican Revolution. Based on extensive research in Mexican and U.S. archives, this is a book that helps shift the boundaries of what constitutes American history.”

“In The Sewing Girl’s Tale, John Wood Sweet revisits the notorious 1793 rape of a teenaged seamstress named Lanah Sawyer. He narrates how the assault and the ensuing trial roiled New York City just a few years after the ratification of the Constitution. Writing in engrossing prose, Sweet confidently builds on the scholarship on sexual violence, local governance, class conflict, material culture, and the law, while deploying digital mapping and database tools to recreate the streets of 1793 Manhattan in dazzling high-definition. … The result is a precise, layered analysis of New York’s social hierarchy just as it was becoming the leading metropolis of the early republic. Still, Sweet takes care not to let his masterful accumulation of detail and context overshadow the person at the heart of his tale. … In this study of a crime that so often goes unreported and unrecorded, Sweet’s work is a testament to the power of the historian’s craft and the resilience of an ordinary young woman who refused to suffer in silence.”

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, 197 books were submitted for consideration for the 2023 prize.

Beverly Gage is a professor of U.S. history at Yale University. Her book, G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, a biography of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, was named a Best Book of 2022 by the Washington Post (Ten Best Books), The Atlantic (Ten Best Books), Publishers Weekly (Ten Best Books), The New Yorker (24 Essential Reads), The New York Times (100 Notable Books), and Smithsonian (Ten Best History Books). She is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terror, which examined the history of terrorism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on the 1920 Wall Street bombing. In addition to her teaching and research, Professor Gage writes for numerous journals and magazines, including the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Washington Post. She is a graduate of Yale University (1994, B.A., American Studies, Magna Cum Laude) and Columbia University (2004, Ph.D., History).

Kelly Lytle Hernández is a professor of history, African American studies, and urban planning at UCLA, where she holds the Thomas E. Lifka Endowed Chair in History and directs the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. One of the nation’s leading experts on race, immigration, and mass incarceration, she is the author of Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol (University of California Press, 2010), City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), and Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022). She also leads Million Dollar Hoods, a big data research initiative documenting the fiscal and human cost of mass incarceration in Los Angeles. For her historical and contemporary work, Professor Lytle Hernández was named a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She is also an elected member of the Society of American Historiansthe American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Pulitzer Prize Board.

John Wood Sweet is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the former director of UNC’s Program in Sexuality Studies. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC, and the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, among others. His first book, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730–1830, was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Prize. He was named a Top Young Historian by the History News Network and has served as an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. He lives in Chapel Hill with his husband, son, and daughter.