2008 Frederick Douglass Prize

University of Washington Professor Wins $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

New Haven, Conn.- Stephanie E. Smallwood, Associate Professor of History at the University of Washington, Seattle, has been selected as the winner of the 2008 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, awarded for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. Smallwood won for her book Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press). The book examines the transatlantic slave trade and the relationships between Africa and the new world. The prize is awarded by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
In addition to Smallwood, the other finalists for the prize were Anthony E. Kaye for Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (University of North Carolina Press); Kristin Mann for Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900 (Indiana University Press); and Chandra Manning for What this Cruel War was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers). The $25,000 annual award is the most generous history prize in the field. The prize will be presented to Smallwood at a dinner in New York City in February 2009.

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of over seventy five entries by a jury of scholars that included Barrymore Anthony Bogues (Brown University), Christopher Clark (University of Connecticut), and Rebecca J. Scott (University of Michigan School of Law). The winner was selected by a review committee of representatives from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Yale University.

Saltwater Slavery is a remarkable account of the transatlantic slave trade that will lead scholars to rethink their understanding of the middle passage, Africa’s diaspora, and the relationships between Africa and the New World,” says Clark, the 2008 Douglass Prize Jury Chair and Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. “Stephanie Smallwood uses records of the English Royal African Company’s trade with the Gold Coast to provide insights into the lives of the men and women the company bought, transported, and offered for sale in the Americas. Tracing the steps that led from captivity in Africa to final sale in the New World, Smallwood gets behind the generalities that often characterize studies of the slave trade. She shows how at each stage captives found themselves transformed and re-presented as commodities for purchase by merchants; for confinement aboard ship; and for resale as plantation workers or servants.”

“Above all, Smallwood depicts the estrangement that removed captives not only from the social and familial circles of kinship, but also from the spiritual connections with kin that could sustain a good life and a good death. Slaves built new kinship networks to save themselves from social death, but often their efforts were cut off by resale or premature mortality. Deploying slaves own metaphor of “saltwater slavery” to illuminate the meanings of the Atlantic slave system, Stephanie Smallwood opens up new avenues for historians and anthropologists to explore. This is a subtle, powerful study of the deep horrors of slavery and the slave trade.”

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field of slavery and abolition by honoring outstanding books. The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), the slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the 19th century.