The authors of three acclaimed books, one on constitutional law, one on the intellectual history of the American South and one on the history of Israel Hill, a free black community built in Virginia, have been awarded the Bancroft Prize for 2005.
The winners are Melvin Patrick Ely, for Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf); Michael J. Klarman for From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Oxford University Press); and Michael O’Brien for Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860 (University of North Carolina Press).
One of the most coveted honors in the field of history, the Bancroft Prize 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 2005 awards are for books published in 2004.
Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger will present the awards to the recipients at a formal dinner on April 27 in Low Memorial Library hosted by the Department of History and the University Libraries.
The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by James Neal, vice president for Information Services and University Librarian.
"Over 200 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year," noted Neal. "Once again, we were very impressed by the number of excellent submissions covering a broad range of themes, and are proud to announce this year's winners."
Ely is professor of history and black studies at the College of William and Mary. He is also the author of The Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon. Israel on the Appomattox reconstructs the experiences of a free black community established in Virginia in the early 1800s. According to the Bancroft jury, "This model work of local history succeeds in illuminating both individual lives and large structures, both limits and possibilities, and the result is a complex and arresting story that will make us all think harder about the history of race relations in the antebellum South."
The author of From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, Klarman is also the James Monroe Distinguished Professor of Law and professor of history at the University of Virginia. Bancroft jurors noted that "Klarman's examination of this classic problem in American constitutional history is not only our best account of Brown, its antecedents and consequences, but also goes well beyond that important story to make a larger set of arguments about the role of the Supreme Court in helping to bring about social change."
O'Brien is Reader in American History at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Jesus College. Bancroft jurors commented, "In what can only be described as magisterial fashion, O'Brien has chronicled the lives and works of antebellum Southern writers and thinkers -- from dissenters like the Grimke sisters to the man Richard Hofstader called 'the Marx of the Master Class,' John C. Calhoun and almost everyone in between."
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.