The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture announced today the three finalists for the 2021 Harriet Tubman Prize. The award honors the best nonfiction book on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World published in the United States during the previous year. The finalists were selected by a jury of librarians and scholars and the winner, which will be announced in November, will receive $7,500.
“This year’s Harriet Tubman Prize competition has been quite exciting,” said Dr. Michelle Commander, associate director and curator of the Lapidus Center. “I am in awe of the works produced by all of this year’s nominees and am beyond thrilled for the field of slavery studies.The three finalists are phenomenal scholars whose books uncover lesser-known and compellingly told and researched stories regarding the ways that enslaved people asserted their agency as well as the surprising racial and gendered dynamics that animated Caribbean and South American societies during the era of slavery. ”
The finalists for the 2021 Harriet Tubman Prize are:
Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War (Harvard University Press) by Vincent Brown, professor of history, Harvard University
In the second half of the eighteenth century, as European imperial conflicts extended the domain of capitalist agriculture, warring African factions fed their captives to the transatlantic slave trade while masters struggled continuously to keep their restive slaves under the yoke. In this contentious atmosphere, a movement of enslaved West Africans in Jamaica (then called Coromantees) organized to throw off that yoke by violence. Their uprising—which became known as Tacky’s Revolt—featured a style of fighting increasingly familiar today: scattered militias opposing great powers, with fighters hard to distinguish from noncombatants. It was also part of a more extended borderless conflict that spread from Africa to the Americas and across the island. Even after it was put down, the insurgency rumbled throughout the British Empire at a time when slavery seemed the dependable bedrock of its dominion. That certitude would never be the same, nor would the views of black lives, which came to inspire both more fear and more sympathy than before. Tracing the roots, routes, and reverberations of this event across disparate parts of the Atlantic world, Vincent Brown offers us a superb geopolitical thriller. Tacky’s Revolt expands our understanding of the relationship between European, African, and American history, as it speaks to our understanding of wars of terror today.
Hiding in Plain Sight: Black Women, the Law, and the Making of a White Argentine Republic (University of Alabama Press) by Erika Denise Edwards, associate professor of history, University of North Carolina-Charlotte
Argentina promotes itself as a country of European immigrants. This makes it an exception to other Latin American countries, which embrace a more mixed—African, Indian, European—heritage. Hiding in Plain Sight traces the origins of what some white Argentines mischaracterize as a “black disappearance” by delving into the intimate lives of black women and explaining how they contributed to the making of a “white” Argentina. Erika Denise Edwards has produced the first comprehensive study in English of the history of African descendants outside of Buenos Aires in the late colonial and early republican periods, with a focus on how these women sought whiteness to better their lives and that of their children.
Edwards argues that attempts by Black women to escape the stigma of Blackness by recategorizing themselves and their descendants as white began as early as the late eighteenth century, challenging scholars who assert that the Black population drastically declined at the end of the nineteenth century because of the whitening or modernization process. She further contends that in Córdoba, Argentina, women of African descent (such as wives, mothers, daughters, and concubines) were instrumental in shaping their own racial reclassifications and destinies.
Jamaica Ladies: Female Slaveholders and the Creation of Britain’s Atlantic Empire (UNC Press) by Christine Walker, assistant professor of history, Yale-NUS
Jamaica Ladies is the first systematic study of the free and freed women of European, Euro-African, and African descent who perpetuated chattel slavery and reaped its profits in the British Empire. Their actions helped transform Jamaica into the wealthiest slaveholding colony in the Anglo-Atlantic world. Starting in the 1670s, a surprisingly large and diverse group of women helped secure English control of Jamaica and, crucially, aided its developing and expanding slave labor regime by acquiring enslaved men, women, and children to protect their own tenuous claims to status and independence. Female colonists employed slaveholding as a means of advancing themselves socially and financially on the island. By owning others, they wielded forms of legal, social, economic, and cultural authority not available to them in Britain. In addition, slaveholding allowed free women of African descent, who were not far removed from slavery themselves, to cultivate, perform, and cement their free status. Alongside their male counterparts, women bought, sold, stole, and punished the people they claimed as property and vociferously defended their rights to do so. As slavery’s beneficiaries, these women worked to stabilize and propel this brutal labor regime from its inception.
About the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery
The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, founded in 2014 with a generous $2.5 million gift from Ruth and Sid Lapidus, generates and disseminates scholarly knowledge and works on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery pertaining to the Atlantic World. The Center supports the work of researchers with long-term and short-term fellowships. Given the centrality of Atlantic slavery to the making of the modern world, Lapidus fellowships ensure that slavery studies are a cornerstone of the Schomburg Center’s broader research community. The Center engages the public with a variety of programs, an annual nonfiction book prize, exhibitions, conferences, and partnerships with local, national, and international institutions. To learn more about the Lapidus Center, please visit lapiduscenter.org.
About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the preservation, research, interpretation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diasporan, and African experiences. As a research division of The New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections totaling over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global black history, arts, and culture. Learn more at schomburgcenter.org.
About The New York Public Library
For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 18 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at http://www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.