Anne Hyde, the William R. Hochman Professor of History at Colorado College, has been awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize for her book “Empires, Nations and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860.”
One of the most celebrated awards in its field, the Bancroft Prize is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University. Winners are judged in terms of the scope, significance, depth of research and richness of interpretation they present in the areas of American history and diplomacy. Hyde’s book, which Columbia University calls “a highly original history of the American West,” was among the 175 books considered for the 2012 prize.
The period covered in Hyde’s book, 1800-1860, spans the fur trade, Mexican War, gold rushes and the Overland Trail, usually very male-dominated fields of study. Hyde took a different approach, and, using letters and business records, documented the broad family associations that crossed national and ethnic boundaries. “These folks turned out to be almost entirely people of great wealth and status who loved and married across racial and cultural lines. It turns out that the West of that period is really a mixed race world that made perfect cultural and economic sense until national ideas made that cultural choice impossible in the 1850s,” Hyde said.
Hyde’s book, published by the University of Nebraska Press, is part of a five-volume series that reassesses the entire field of Western history. It shows how the world of river and maritime trade effectively shifted political power away from military and diplomatic circles into the hands of local people. Hyde’s work reveals how, in the 1850s, immigrants to the newest region of the United States violently wrested control from Native and other powers, and how conquest and competing demands for land and resources brought about a volatile frontier culture—not at all the peace and prosperity that the new power had promised. The book makes clear that the Louisiana Purchase did not involve virgin wilderness discovered by virtuous Anglo entrepreneurs. Rather, the United States was a newcomer in a place already complicated by vying empires. You can listen to her discuss her book at http://radiocoloradocollege.org/2012/03/listen-to-bancroft-prize-winner-anne-hyde-on-western-skies/
The other two winners of the 2012 Bancroft Prize are Daniel T. Rodgers of Princeton University for “Age of Fracture,” and Tomiko Brown-Nagin of the University of Virginia Law School for “Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement.” Columbia Provost John H. Coatsworth will present the awards at a formal dinner next month, hosted by the department of history and the Columbia University Libraries. The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by University Librarian and Vice President for Information Services James Neal.
The Bancroft Prizes were established at Columbia University in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a preeminent historian, librarian, author, and Columbia University lecturer. It is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history.