Publication Date

March 18, 2013

Perspectives Section


Congratulations to the 2013 winners of Columbia University’s prestigious Bancroft Prize. The winners, both AHA members, are W. Jeffrey Bolster (University of New Hampshire, Durham), and John Fabian Witt (Yale Law School).

The Bancroft Prize is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia to the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography, and diplomacy. There were 223 books nominated for the 2013 award, all published in 2012. The presentation of the $10,000 prize, awarded to each of the winners, will take place next month.

Learn more about the winning books below:

  • Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History (Free Press, 2012), by John Fabian Witt.
    John Fabian Witt offers a unique look at the “story of the laws of war in the first century of the United States”—where the idea of the conduct of war not only shaped American law, but also world history. Using a mixture of anecdotes and analysis, “Witt brings to life the soldiers and the presidents, the war makers and the pacifists, the Indians and the slaves, the cynics, the utopians, and the pragmatists who struggled with enemies and with one another to shape the United States’ vision of the laws of war.” He finds “The code Lincoln issued prohibited cruelty and the infliction of pain for its own sake but left room for vast destruction in the name of a just cause. It condoned the devastation inflicted in Sherman’s march to the sea. Yet it also provided a moral foundation for Emancipation and insisted that doing the right thing in situations of grave crisis was indispensable to the legitimacy of modern armies.”
  • The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (Harvard University Press, 2012), by W. Jeffrey Bolster.
    From the publisher: Since the Viking ascendancy in the Middle Ages, the Atlantic has shaped the lives of people who depend upon it for survival. And just as surely, people have shaped the Atlantic. In his innovative account of this interdependency, W. Jeffrey Bolster, a historian and professional seafarer, takes us through a millennium-long environmental history of our impact on one of the largest ecosystems in the world. Blending marine biology, ecological insight, and a remarkable cast of characters, from notable explorers to scientists to an army of unknown fishermen, Bolster tells a story that is both ecological and human: the prelude to an environmental disaster. Over generations, harvesters created a quiet catastrophe as the sea could no longer renew itself. Bolster writes in the hope that the intimate relationship humans have long had with the ocean, and the species that live within it, can be restored for future generations.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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