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Information on the Frederick Douglass Book Prize Competition

Frederick Douglass Prize


Book Cover, The Diligent

(New York, September 19) - Two major new books on slavery—the first a detailed portrait of one harrowing slave trading voyage, the other a study of four linked leaders of the 19th century American abolitionist movement—will share the fourth annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, it was announced today by Yale University's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. The $25,000 annual award for the year's best non-fiction book on slavery, resistance and/or abolition, is the most generous history prize in the field, and the most respected and coveted of the major awards for the study of the black experience.

Robert Harms, Professor of African Studies and History at Yale University, will be awarded first prize and $15,000 for his book The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade (Basic Books). Drawing upon the private journal of First Lieutenant Robert Durand, Harms recreates the macabre journey of a French slave ship and interweaves it with the remarkable dramas of its slave route. The result is an astonishingly detailed look at the voyage of a single slave ship that also sheds new light on the multinational character of the slave trade and how it shaped morality, politics and economics on three continents. Harms will receive $15,000 and a bronze medallion with the likeness of Frederick Douglass.

Book Cover, The Black Hearts of Men
Second prize will go to John Stauffer, Associate Professor of English and American Civilization at Harvard University, for The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Harvard University Press). Stauffer's book, a study of the interconnected lives of four antislavery figures, opens a window on the decade before the Civil War, exploring both the possibilities and the limits of interracial friendship and the ominous dynamics of an abolitionist movement spiraling toward violence. Stauffer will be awarded $10,000 and a Douglass Prize medallion.

Honorable mention will go to The Embarrassment of Slavery: Controversies over Bondage and Nationalism in the American Colonial Philippines (University of California Press) by Michael Salman, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Both of these remarkable contributions to the literature of slavery and abolition break new ground," commented Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the philanthropists who endow the Frederick Douglass Prize. "They successfully expand our understanding of two very different, very intriguing subjects: the broad conspiracy of slave trading, and the narrow but fascinating possibilities for inter-racial friendships and collaborations in the era before the Civil War. Each of these exceptional studies becomes a classic in its field, and we are proud to honor their authors with the prize."

Added Professor David Brion Davis, Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition: "Robert Harms combines extraordinary research and historical scholarship with the traits of a first-class novelist. As a result, The Diligent illuminates the nature of the appalling Atlantic Slave trade as no other book, whether history or fiction, has succeeded in doing. Harms brings to life real people and shocking events, while also giving us an overview of the greatest forced migration in human history." Professor Davis added of Black Hearts of Men: "This extremely original, powerful, and brilliant study is surely one of the best books ever written on American abolitionists, both black and white."

This year's winning books were selected from a field of over 30 entries by a jury of historians: Stanley Engerman, chair (University of Rochester); Seymour Drescher (University of Pittsburgh) and Jennifer Baszile (Yale University).

The prizes will be awarded at a gala dinner at the Yale Club of New York on February 27, 2003, as the capstone of Black History Month in New York

The Frederick Douglass Prize was established two years ago to stimulate scholarship in the field by honoring outstanding accomplishments. Previous winners were: 1999 Ira Berlin (for Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery) and Philip D. Morgan (for Slave Counterpoint: The Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry); and 2000, David Eltis (for The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas); and 2001, David Blight (for Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory).

The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the onetime slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, and orators of the 19th century.

The 2002 first prize winner, Robert Harms, is Professor of History at Yale University. He earned his Ph.D. in African history from the University of Wisconsin in 1978, and is author of several monographs on the history of central Africa, including Games Against Nature: An Eco-cultural History of the Nunu (Cambridge University Press).

The second prize winner, John Stauffer, Associate Professor of English and American Civilization at Harvard University, received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1998.

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition was launched at Yale University in November 1998 through a generous donation by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History. Its mission is to promote the study of all aspects of slavery, in particular the Atlantic slave system, including African and African-American resistance to enslavement, abolitionist movements, and the ways in which chattel slavery finally became outlawed.

In addition to encouraging the highest standards of new scholarship, the Center is dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge through publications, conferences, educational outreach, and other activities. The Center will host its fourth annual international conference, Unshackled Spaces: Fugitives from Slavery and Maroon Communities in the Americas on December 6-7 at Yale University. For further information on the conference, contact the center by phone (203-432-3339), fax (203-432-6943), or e-mail (