Account of Slave Trade Wins Frederick Douglass Book Prize

For Immediate Release

Contact: Marilyn Wilkes (203) 432-3413

Account of Slave Trade Wins Frederick Douglass Book Prize

October 6, 2008. New Haven, CT � Stephanie E. Smallwood, associate professor of history at the University of Washington-Seattle, 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.

The Frederick Douglass Book 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. It will be presented at a dinner in New York City in February 2009.

Smallwood won for her book, Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Harvard University Press). The book examines the Atlantic slave trade from its origins in Africa through the Middle Passage to the American slave market.

“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 of the University of Connecticut, the 2008 Douglass Prize Jury Chair. “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. … 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.”

In addition to Smallwood, the other finalists for the prize were Anthony E. Kaye for Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (University of North Carolina Press); Kristin Mann for Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760–1900 (Indiana University Press); and Chandra Manning for What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf).

This year’s finalists were selected from a field of over 75 entries by a jury of scholars that, in addition to Clark, included Barrymore Anthony Bogues (Brown University) and Rebecca J. Scott (University of Michigan School of Law). The winner was selected by a review committee from the Gilder Lehrman Center, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Yale University.

The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was established in 1999 to stimulate scholarship in the field of slavery and abolition by honoring outstanding books. Previous winners are Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan in 1999; David Eltis, 2000; David Blight, 2001; Robert Harms and John Stauffer, 2002; James F. Brooks and Seymour Drescher, 2003; Jean Fagan Yellin, 2004; Laurent Dubois, 2005; Rebecca J. Scott, 2006, and Christopher Leslie Brown, 2007.

The award is named for Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), the slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the 19th century.

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, a part of the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University, was launched in November 1998 through a donation by philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Its mission is to promote the study of all aspects of slavery, especially the chattel slave system and its destruction. The center seeks to foster an improved understanding of the role of slavery, slave resistance, and abolition in the founding of the modern world by promoting interaction and exchange between scholars, teachers, and public historians through publications, educational outreach, and other programs and events.

For further information on Gilder Lehrman Center events and programming, contact the center by phone (203) 432-3339, fax (203) 432-6943, or e-mail

Contact Information:

Marilyn Wilkes

The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale

(203) 432-3413