Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has announced the finalists for the Sixteenth Annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, one of the most coveted awards for the study of the African American experience. Jointly sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University, this annual prize of $25,000 recognizes the best book on slavery, resistance, and/or abolition.
The finalists are: Camillia Cowling for Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro (University of North Carolina Press); Christopher Hager for Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing (Harvard University Press); and Alan Taylor for The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 (W. W. Norton).
The winner will be announced following the Douglass Prize Review Committee meeting in the fall, and the award will be presented at a celebration in New York City in January 2015.
This year’s finalists were selected from a field of nearly one hundred entries by a jury of scholars that included Fergus M. Bordewich (Jury Chair and author of America’s Great Debate), Jeannine DeLombard (University of Toronto), and Lisa Lindsay (University of North Carolina).
In Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro, Camillia Cowling powerfully enlarges our understanding of the gradual end of slavery in its last American locations, demonstrating the centrality of gender to the process of emancipation and of women in bringing its provisions to life. Conceiving Freedom vividly reveals the ways in which enslaved urban women of color gave meaning to freedom—by accumulating property, claiming space in the city, and protecting their bodily integrity—and how they passed along those understandings to their “free womb” children.
In place of the words that have preoccupied scholars—the published autobiographies, pamphlets, journalism, and oratory of famous fugitives—Christopher Hager’s Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing examines non-literary acts of literacy by everyday enslaved people. And rather than treating these letters, diaries, and petitions as relics of larger historical phenomena, this original and elegantly crafted book demonstrates how momentous was the very act of written communication for those whose social interaction was as circumscribed as their education. With a keen eye for shifts in genre, tone, handwriting, spelling, grammar, ink, and paper, Hager excavates the intensely felt human experiences that lie buried beneath these documents’ conventional forms and unconventional orthography without presumption or sentimentality.
In The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832, Alan Taylor provides a brilliant account of the role that slaves and the self-emancipated played during the War of 1812. Taylor delves deeply into the operation of informal, interlocking slave networks that made possible the rapid transmission of information, the organization of mass escapes, and the provision of intelligence for British troops that enabled them to repeatedly outmaneuver and defeat the American militias that mustered to oppose them. The Internal Enemy is distinguished for a narrative verve that brings slaves, masters, and British liberators to life with a sense of drama that never surrenders its intellectual rigor for novelistic effect.
The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field by honoring outstanding accomplishments. Previous winners are Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan in 1999; David Eltis, 2000; David Blight, 2001; Robert Harms and John Stauffer, 2002; James F. Brooks and Seymour Drescher, 2003; Jean Fagan Yellin, 2004; Laurent Dubois, 2005; Rebecca J. Scott, 2006; Christopher Leslie Brown, 2007; Stephanie Smallwood, 2008; Annette Gordon-Reed, 2009; Siddharth Kara, Judith Carney, and Richard N. Rosomoff, 2010; Stephanie McCurry, 2011; James Sweet, 2012; and Sydney Nathans, 2013.
The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), the one-time slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers,and orators of the nineteenth century.