". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bancroft History Prize + -- the Return of el V!

So many very fine history titles came out last year that the judges awarded the Bancroft Award to two titles. The Bancroft is one of the oldest and most prestigious history prizes given out in the U.S.  I don't think it is ever awarded to anyone who isn't an academic (which means TASC automatically wouldn't be considered, though the prize-winners are often published by non-academic, trade/commercial publishers. It is sponsored by Columbia University so that would make sense.

This year Greg Grandin's Empire of Necessity won along with Sven Beckert's Empire of Cotton. Both authors received a fair amount of media attention when their books came out -- at least here.  Grandin is well known already, and won other awards. We don't know Beckert but Greg's an amigo.

Both books deal with the global aspects of capitalism, cash crops, slavery and the slave trade. They're both "Big Picture" histories.  Both books are eminently readable though their authors are academics.

I mention the readability because I've been frequently seeing online this winter that academic histories cannot be big picture and cannot be written in accessible, readable prose, and thus are objects of derision. This appears to be repeated mostly by non-professionals and non-historians and by those who are uninterested in history, so uninterested in history, that they flat-out deny it's a discipline and profession at all. Academics do, of course, worry about readability and accessibility -- but many of them, like most people everywhere, aren't gifted writers, thus  we still have all these works that don't read well -- which is too bad, for them, but most of all, for us, as readers and scholars.  (Of course, a great deal else goes into the research of history beyond reading and writing, including math, archeology, statistical analysis, and other sorts of data mining.)

I've paid particular attention to this year's winners because both Grandin and Beckert deal with some of what TASC deals with (in fact, Cuba and Its Music is cited in Empire of Necessity). Another reason is I'm reading 

Foner's Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (2015), for which much of his research took place in Columbia University's Butler Library's Rare Book collection (i.e. includes papers and archives). Two summers ago we did a great deal of research there in the papers of Frederic Bancroft. 

Not only did he establish and fund the Bancroft History Prize, but he's the founding father of the history of the U.S. domestic slave trade studies, with his self-published Slave-trading in the Old South (1931).

Slave-trading in the Old South was self-published because he could afford to pay for it (which was very expensive in those days). In this era the southern revisionist vision of the antebellum south and slavery dominated the current publishing industry as it did politics and history. Since he could afford to self-publish Bancroft chose to side-step embarrassing rejections from all those editors -- many of whom he knew well, as he, like they were, was among America's aristocratic class -- and thus avoid embarrassment all around.

Additionally, Bancroft was a contemporary of Henry Adams and other American aristocrats, within and without the discipline of history, whose works we've read thoroughly throughout the process of researching and writing The American Slave Coast.

Not that any of this matters to anyone but myself, but I like to keep track of these moments where I feel part of the mighty currents that make up the study of Matter of America and its history.


El V comes back tonight, late. The weather is not pleasant, so this time he won't be bringing nicer weather with him upon his return, as he so often when having been away.  I've missed him so much!

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