U.Va. History Prof. wins Pulitzer
Alan Taylor takes home second such prize in career
Famed University History Prof. Alan Taylor tallied his second Pulitzer Prize award Monday for his book “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832.”
Taylor won the National Book Award for nonfiction last year for the novel, which the Pulitzer committee praised as “a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”
He last secured publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s namesake distinction in 1996 for the book “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.”
For “The Internal Enemy,” Taylor spent four years researching and writing the account of thousands of slaves in Maryland and Virginia who fled captivity.
“The book tells the stories of 3,400 slaves from Virginia and Maryland who escaped to freedom by stealing boats and canoes at night to reach British warships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812,” he said in an email.
This historical narrative examines the deep underpinnings of what was the entrapment, shipment and enslavement of — according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History — between 9.6 and 10.8 million slaves from Africa to the U.S.
“[The story] … reveal[s] the nature of slavery and freedom in the early years of the American Republic,” he said.
The book’s publisher, W.W. Norton, said on the Pulitzer website the account “reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war” and “re-creates the events that inspired black Virginians, haunted slaveholders, and set the nation on a new and dangerous course.”
The story can be seen as a microcosm for slavery in America, Taylor added, as a large portion of American slavery was concentrated in Virginia.
“Half the slaves in the nation then lived in Virginia, which makes the story of special importance to understanding the early republic,” he said.
Two other finalists — “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” by Jacqueline Jones and “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety,” by Eric Schlosser — were also considered for the award.
History Prof. Andrew O’Shaughnessy said the accolade was “thrilling for the department.”
“Alan Taylor has always been interested in public history and writing for the layman, not just the scholar,” O’Shaughnessy said in a press release. “He has succeeded in making an important methodological breakthrough in the discipline with his ability to integrate modern social history — the lives of ordinary people — into the grand narrative of political, military and economic history.”
Taylor is expected to serve as the history department’s Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Chair starting next August. He joined the University community after he transferred from the University of California, Davis, in March.
“I have come to U.Va. because of the strength of the history faculty and students and the commitment of the administration to the liberal arts,” Taylor said. “I hope to continue writing books and to teaching the excellent students at U.Va..”