The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians is pleased to announce the following awards for books and articles published in 2016.
For a first book that deals substantially with the history of women, gender, and/or sexuality
2016 > Marisa J. Fuentes. Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Citation: Marissa Fuentes has written an original, complex, and perceptive book about enslaved women in eighteenth-century Bridgetown, Barbados. Each chapter combines a finely grained study of an individual woman with a discerning analysis of the slender and problematic archival evidence of her life. From sheer fragments, Fuentes places women in the context of urban Caribbean slavery and powerfully reconstructs the features of their lives. Each chapter answers implicit questions about its subject: How did she labor? What urban spaces did she move through? What discipline and violence did she encounter? Fuentes carefully demonstrates the ways in which enslaved women “enacted their personhood” despite their experiences of violence, dehumanization, and commodification.
The theoretical foundations of Dispossessed Lives are as paradigm shifting as its substantive conclusions. Fuentes took on the troubled and frustrating archive upon which we are reliant to help excavate the lives of enslaved women in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. In addition to recovering and reconstructing lives, the book also addresses the production and survival of knowledge about enslaved women. Fuentes reads “along the bias grain of the archive” and boldly confronts its erasures, silences, and politics. Lucid, absorbing, and troubling, Dispossessed Lives is a rich addition to the study of early modern enslaved women.
Finalists for this award
- Zara Anishanslin. Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
- Emily K. Hobson. Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016.
For a first book in any field of history that does not focus on the history of women, gender, and/or sexuality
2016 > Anya Zilberstein. A Temperate Empire: Making Climate Change in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Citation: Anya Zilberstein has written an astute book about intellectual debates in the north Atlantic regarding the historical significance of climate and its variability. Her path breaking analysis of how people understood climate change is pointedly linked to discussions about colonial expansion. A Temperate Empire offers an important corrective to current scholarship on climate in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It demonstrates not only that northern climes were considered by Western European colonizers to be less-than-ideal, thereby puncturing stubborn myths about the supposedly healthier New England colonies. It also shows that colonial subjects slipped in and out of the so-called “frigid” and “torrid” zones. The chapter excavating the journeys and experiences of the Maroon community of Trelawny Town, Jamaica as they were forcibly transported to Nova Scotia is an excellent example of this, and stands as one of the highlights of the book.
Part environmental history, part history of science, A Temperate Empire is incredibly timely, as it suggests that our own debates about climate change need to be historicized. In demonstrating the ways that climate figures not just as an inescapable scientific fact, but simultaneously as a discourse that is shaped and manipulated, this book makes a key intervention into our understanding of past and present climate change. The book’s vivid and witty prose also makes for admirably lucid reading.
Finalists for this award:
- Rashauna Johnson. Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
- Wendy Warren. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. New York: Norton, 2016.
2016-2017 Berkshire Book Prizes Committee
- Terri L. Snyder, Chair, California State University, Fullerton
- Erica Armstrong Dunbar, University of Delaware, Library Company of Philadelphia
- Durba Ghosh, Cornell University
- Amanda Herbert, Folger Shakespeare Library
- M. Alison Kibler, Franklin and Marshall University
- Tatiana Seijas, Pennsylvania State University
For an article in the fields of the history of women, gender, and/or sexuality
2016 > Amy Stanley, “Maidservants’ Tales: Narrating Domestic and Global History in Eurasia, 1600-1900,” American Historical Review, vol. 121, no. 2, April 2016, pp. 437-460.
The committee overwhelmingly agreed that Stanley’s “Maidservants’ Tales” stood out in a pool of very strong articles in this category because of her innovative integration of micro and global history, two “seemingly incompatible strategies” to illustrate, as she writes, the “small rebellions of ordinary people” which were “common” … “to women across Eurasia over three hundred years.” We found her writing to be highly engaging, and praised her ability to upend our assumptions about women’s lives in vastly different historical contexts. She demonstrates that women’s historians might highlight lives that at first glance appear unimportant because they are, in the case of this article, maidservants, a task performed by young women in broadly different geographical and historical contexts, but still use those lives to draw broad historical understandings.
For article in any field of history other than the history of women, gender, and/or sexuality
2016 > Devra Anne Weber, “Wobblies of the Partido Liberal Mexicano: Reenvisioning Internationalist and Transnational Movements through Mexican Lenses,” Pacific Historical Review, 85, no. 2 (May 2016), 188-226.
The committee awarded this prize to Weber for her methodologically interesting approach which decenters the historical narrative of the Wobblies by using a transnational lens to focus on the labor activism of Mexican subjects in territory both north and south of the shifting US/Mexican border. As Weber points out and makes central to her lens, both the people and the border have moved over time. Her transnational focus highlights the diversity of the activists in terms of gender, linguistics, class, and ethnicity as people lived, worked, and organized to target “imperialism as well as industrial capitalism” … “across a transnational space.” She contends that by restricting the history of the IWW to national boundaries, historians have unwittingly marginalized a “complex, messy, multiethnic, and multilingual reality.” We also appreciated her multigenerational scope, which views history “through individuals, families, and communities” to reveal a “multigenerational transmission of values and activism” that reaches up to the present.
2016-2017 Berkshire Article Prizes Committee
- Jennifer Nelson, Chair, Redlands University
- Tamar Carroll, Rochester Institute of Technology
- Mita Choudhury, Vassar College
- Margaret H. Darrow, Dartmouth College
- Marisa Fuentes, Rutgers University
- Katrina Gulliver, Independent Scholar
- Shirley Lim, Stony Brook University
- Betty C. Luther-Hillman, Exeter
- Barbara Molony, Santa Clara University