History's Grandin Wins Bancroft Prize for "The Empire of Necessity"

Historians in the News
tags: NYU, Greg Grandin, Bancroft Prize, The Empire of Necessity



NYU History Professor Greg Grandin has won the Bancroft Prize, awarded by the trustees of Columbia University, for his 2014 work, The Empire of Necessity (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Company). 

Grandin shares the honor with Harvard University’s Sven Beckert, who was recognized for Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

“We are excited to award the Bancroft Prize to two extraordinary works, both deeply researched and offering important new interpretations of their historical subjects,” said Damon E. Jaggars, Columbia’s interim vice provost and University Librarian. “We congratulate Sven Beckert and Greg Grandin for their exceptional achievements.”

Grandin’s book centers on the Herman Melville novella, Benito Cereno. In constructing it, Melville draws from the memoirs of Captain Amasa Delano, an early-19th century New England seal hunter, who climbs aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying West Africans he thought were slaves. He is mistaken. Having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, they were staging an elaborate ruse, acting as if they were servants. When Delano, who opposed slavery, finally realizes the deception, he responds with explosive violence.

“With prodigious research, Grandin reconstructs the complex processes and tortuous journeys that brought New Englander Amasa Delano and his crew of seal hunters into fateful contact with a Spanish ship under the invisible control of the enslaved men and women it was supposed to be transporting,” Columbia said in announcing the award. “Grandin’s eloquent retelling of the story, like Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno before it, animates a thoughtful meditation on the meanings of slavery; it is also a gripping and deeply erudite demonstration of the global reaches and ramifications of the slave trade during the age of revolution.

Columbia Provost John H. Coatsworth will present the awards at the Bancroft Prize dinner in April. The prize includes an award of $10,000 to each author.

For an NYU Stories interview with Grandin, conducted in January 2014, please click here.





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