Law professor Michael J. Klarman is among three recipients of this year’s Bancroft Prize, one of the most coveted honors in the field of history. Awarded by Columbia University, the prize honors the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography, and diplomacy. Klarman won for his study of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, “From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality” (Oxford University Press, 2004). Also receiving the prize this year are Melvin Patrick Ely for “Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War” (Alfred A. Knopf) and Michael O’Brien for “Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860” (two volumes, The University of North Carolina Press).
The 2005 awards are for books published in 2004. More than 200 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year, according to Columbia Library head James Neal, who oversees the selection process.
Bancroft jurors noted that “Klarman’s examination of this classic problem in American constitutional history is not only our best account of Brown, its antecedents and consequences, but also goes well beyond that important story to make a larger set of arguments about the role of the Supreme Court in helping to bring about social change.”
Klarman, the James Monroe Distinguished Professor of Law, the Albert C. Tate, Jr. Research Professor, and Professor of History, joined the Virginia faculty in 1987. Known as a superb teacher, he has earned a State Council of Higher Education Faculty Award and U.Va.’s All-University Teaching Award.
Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger will present the awards at a formal dinner on April 27 at the University’s Low Memorial Library. The Bancroft Prize includes an award of $10,000 to each author.
Ely’s book, “Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War” reconstructs the experiences of a free black community established in Virginia in the early 1800s.
O’Brien, a reader in American History at Cambridge University and author of “Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860” is credited with a “magisterial” chronicle of the lives and works of antebellum Southern writers and thinkers.
The Bancroft Prizes were established at Columbia in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a historian and librarian of the Department of State, to support instruction and research in American history and diplomacy and to recognize exceptional books in the field.
Other recent University Bancroft recipients include Edward
L. Ayers, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who won
a 2004 Bancroft Prize for “In the Presence of Mine Enemies:
War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863,” and history professor
Melvyn P. Leffler, who was honored in 1992 for “National
Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War.”