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Columbia Announces 2007 Bancroft Awards

William James

The authors of two acclaimed books, a biography chronicling the life of William James and an ecological history of the American South, have won the Bancroft Prize for 2007: Robert D. Richardson for William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Houghton Mifflin) and Jack Temple Kirby for Mockingbird Song: Ecological Landscapes of the South (University of North Carolina).

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 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.”

A Columbia Ph.D. thesis has won the Bancroft Dissertation Award: Top-Down Revolution: Businessmen, Intellectuals and Politicians Against the New Deal by Kim Phillips-Fein (GSAS’05). Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences sponsors the dissertation award, which includes $7,500 for publishing and is given to a Columbia student annually for outstanding dissertations in American history (or biography), diplomacy or international affairs. Nominations are made by the Ph.D. defense committee and the publication subsidy is transferable to a press of the winner’s choice.

Columbia University Provost Alan Brinkley will present the awards at a dinner on May 1.

According to the Bancroft jury, William James is simultaneously an intellectual biography, and a biography tout court, of the James family, including William James’s father, Henry James, Sr., and his brother Henry.” The book “is a virtual intellectual genealogy of American liberalism and, indeed, of American intellectual life in general, through and beyond the twentieth century...the story Richardson tells is engaging, his research deep, his writing graceful and appealing.”

Bancroft jurors noted that Mockingbird Song “is an ecological history of the American South, told through a series of chapters about different types of landscapes and the way human beings have lived and worked in them.... Kirby reflects profoundly on the relationships of Americans–and of humankind–to the natural world...an original in the growing field of environmental history, elegantly conceived and beautifully written.”

Kim Phillips-Fein currently teaches at the New York University Gallatin School, specializing in business history. Eric Foner, Columbia’s DeWitt Clinton Professor of History and Phillips-Fein’s Ph.D. sponsor, said “Kim’s dissertation offers a strikingly original account of key elements of modern American history. She challenges the prevailing view of the 1950s as a time of ‘liberal consensus’ by showing the intense business mobilization against the legacy of the New Deal. She directs attention away from the cultural issues to which the rise of conservatism is generally attributed and places economic ideas and interests at the center of the rise of Reaganism. When it appears as a book, it will not only establish her as one of the most promising historians of her generation, but will undoubtedly become essential reading for anyone interest in American political history.”

Published: Apr 20, 2007
Last modified: Apr 20, 2007