UW News

October 2, 2008

Historian Stephanie Smallwood wins Frederick Douglass Book Prize

Stephanie E. Smallwood, associate professor of history, has been selected as the winner of the 2008 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, awarded for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition.

Smallwood won for her book Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press). The book examines the transatlantic slave trade and the relationships between Africa and the New World. The prize is awarded by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The $25,000 annual award is the most generous history prize in the field.

Saltwater Slavery is a remarkable account of the transatlantic slave trade that will lead scholars to rethink their understanding of the ‘middle passage,’ Africa’s diaspora, and the relationships between Africa and the New World,” says Christopher Clark, the 2008 Douglass Prize jury chair and professor of history at the University of Connecticut.

“Stephanie Smallwood uses records of the English Royal African Company’s trade with the Gold Coast to provide insights into the lives of the men and women the company bought, transported, and offered for sale in the Americas. Tracing the steps that led from captivity in Africa to final sale in the New World, Smallwood gets behind the generalities that often characterize studies of the slave trade. She shows how at each stage captives found themselves transformed and re-presented as commodities — for purchase by merchants, for confinement aboard ship and for resale as plantation workers or servants. This is a subtle, powerful study of the deep horrors of slavery and the slave trade.”

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field of slavery and abolition by honoring outstanding books. The award is named for Frederick Douglass, the slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the 19th century.