Organization of American Historians board member awarded Pulitzer Prize

The Indiana University-affiliated Organization of American Historians was celebrating this week with the news that a member of its executive board was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for history.

Alan Taylor received the prize for his book “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013). He will become the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Chair in History this fall at the University of Virginia after having taught for the past two decades at the University of California, Davis.

Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor (University of Virginia photo)

Taylor has been an Organization of American Historians member since 1990. His term on the executive board expires in April 2016. He previously won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his book “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.”

“Internal Enemy,” according to the Pulitzer citation, is a “meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”

From an Organization of American Historians news release:

The book is a remarkable reconstruction of a story crucial to both our understanding of slavery and of the War of 1812. Taylor shows how enslaved African Americans in the Chesapeake helped British commanders who had come to the region to attack the United States. His richly detailed narrative reveals the intersection between local knowledge, which slaves possessed but invading soldiers and sailors lacked, and the struggle for supremacy on the eastern shores of North America — a region that the British still hoped to control a generation after the conclusion of the American Revolution. The slaves’ actions, in Taylor’s telling, went beyond assisting the enemy of the nation. Their hopes of encouraging the British to liberate them served to confirm Virginia planters’ fears of an ‘internal enemy,’ and thereby made them more susceptible, when the time came, to the entreaties of other southern planters who eventually decided to leave the Union. Taylor masterfully puts the careful attention of a miniaturist to the service of a bold, sweeping historical narrative, drawing out the fine lines of individual slave families and planter society to the broader analysis of 19th-century American slavery in transatlantic context.

“Internal Enemy” also received the Merle Curti Award for the best book published in American social history, presented last April at the OAH annual meeting in Atlanta.

The Organization of American Historians is an external agency of Indiana University, with offices in the historic Millen House near the IU Bloomington campus. Founded in 1907, it is the largest learned society and professional organization dedicated to the teaching and study of American history.

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