American Historians Awarded Columbia's 48th Bancroft Prizes

Photograph, Friends of the Libraries Chairman Henry Graff, center, with Bancroft Prize winners John Brooke, left, and John Dittmer. Photo Credit: Joseph Piniero

Columbia awarded the 48th Bancroft Prizes in American history Apr. 5 to two authors of books on the origins of Mormonism and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi.

The winners are:

Brooke is associate professor of history at Tufts, and Dittmer is professor of history at DePauw. Each received $4,000.

The Bancroft Prizes were established at Columbia in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a historian, author and librarian of the Department of State, to recognize books of exceptional merit in American history, biography or diplomacy. They are equal in rank and are awarded annually by the University Trustees. Books eligible for the 1995 prize were published in 1994.

President Rupp presented the awards at a black-tie dinner held by the Friends of the Columbia Libraries in Low Rotunda. Presiding at the ceremonies was Henry Graff, chairman of the Friends and professor emeritus of history.

Brooke's 421-page study is described in the author's preface as "a selective reinterpretation of the founding story of Mormonism from 1796 to the 1850s in light of a reexamination of the relationships between religion and the occult in the early modern North Atlantic." Martin E. Marty, a noted scholar in the history of American religion, in reviewing the book in Commonweal magazine called it "a model of the historian's enterprise" in which Brooke "blends the passion of the detective and the dispassion of the good judge as he describes the background and context of Mormonism."

The 41-year-old historian is a 1976 graduate of Cornell and received the M.A. (1977) and Ph.D. (1982) from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at Amherst and Franklin and Marshall before joining the Tufts faculty in 1983. His first book, The Heart of the Commonwealth: Society and Political Culture in Worcester County, Massachusetts, 1713-1861 (Cambridge, 1989), received the Merle Curti Award for Intellectual History in 1991 from the Organization of American Historians and other awards.

Dittmer's Local People chronicles, in some 500 pages and 33 photographs, the struggle to obtain civil rights for black citizens in racially repressive Mississippi, beginning with efforts to secure voting rights in 1946 through the seating of an integrated Mississippi delegation at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Events of the tumultuous sixties, including the Freedom Rides, the enrollment of James Meredith at Ole Miss, the assassination of Medgar Evers and the murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, are told in detail, often through oral history accounts.

The book is part of the series Blacks in the New World, as was his earlier volume, Black Georgia in the Progressive Era, 1900-1920 (Illinois, 1977).

Dittmer, 55, was educated at Indiana University, where he received the B.S. (1961), the M.A. (1964) and the Ph.D. (1971). He taught there and at Tougaloo College, Brown and MIT before joining the DePauw faculty in 1985.

Among his honors and awards, he received the McLemore Prize and Lillian Smith Book Award and was a fellow of the Center for the Study of Civil Rights.

Historians who have won the Bancroft Prize since its first awarding in 1948 to Allan Nevins and Bernard DeVoto include C. Vann Woodward, George F. Kennan, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Daniel J. Boorstin, Richard B. Morris and Bernard Bailyn.

Columbia University Record -- April 14, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 24