Sep 27, 2023
2023 John Ben Snow Prize Shortlist Announced
In order to recognize the range of outstanding scholarship currently being produced in British Studies, this year the NACBS book prize committees are announcing prize shortlists.
The committee has selected the following three books for the 2023 John Ben Snow Prize shortlist for the best book in British Studies dealing with the period prior to 1800.
Christina Welsch, The Company's Sword: The East India Company and the Politics of Militarism, 1644–1858 (Cambridge University Press, 2022)
Ted McCormick, Human Empire: Mobility and Demographic Thought in the British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2022)
Katherine Johnston, The Nature of Slavery: Environment and Plantation Labor in the Anglo-Atlantic World (Oxford University Press, 2022)
Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Cotton Mather’s Spanish Lessons: A Story of Language, Race, and Belonging in the Early Americas (Harvard University Press, 2022)
Brief descriptions of the books and links to the publishers’ websites appear below. The winner of the Snow Prize will be announced at the NACBS national conference in November.
Christina Welsch, The Company's Sword: The East India Company and the Politics of Militarism, 1644–1858 (Cambridge University Press, 2022) In the late eighteenth century, it was a cliché that the East India Company ruled India 'by the sword.' Christina Welsch shows how Indian and European soldiers shaped and challenged the Company's political expansion and how elite officers turned those dynamics into a bid for 'stratocracy' – a state dominated by its army. Combining colonial records with Mughal Persian sources from Indian states, The Company's Sword offers new insight into India's eighteenth-century military landscape, showing how elite officers positioned themselves as the sole actors who could navigate, understand, and control those networks. Focusing on south India, rather than the Company's better-studied territories in Bengal, the analysis provides a new approach, chronology, and geography through which to understand the Company Raj. It offers a fresh perspective of the Company's collapse after the rebellions of 1857, tracing the deep roots of that conflict to the Company's eighteenth-century development.
Ted McCormick, Human Empire: Mobility and Demographic Thought in the British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2022) Arguing that demographic thought begins not with quantification but in attempts to control the qualities of people, Human Empire traces two transformations spanning the early modern period. First was the emergence of population as an object of governance through a series of engagements in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, Ireland, and colonial North America, influenced by humanist policy, reason of state, and natural philosophy, and culminating in the creation of political arithmetic. Second was the debate during the long eighteenth century over the locus and limits of demographic agency, as church, civil society, and private projects sought to mobilize and manipulate different marginalized and racialized groups – and as American colonists offered their own visions of imperial demography. This innovative, engaging study examines the emergence of population as an object of knowledge and governance and connects the history of demographic ideas with their early modern intellectual, political, and colonial contexts.
Katherine Johnston, The Nature of Slavery: Environment and Plantation Labor in the Anglo-Atlantic World (Oxford University Press, 2022) In the late eighteenth century, planters in the Caribbean and the American South insisted that only Black people could labor on plantations, arguing that Africans, unlike Europeans, had bodies particularly suited to cultivate crops in hot climates. Historians have mainly taken planters at their word, assuming that they observed differences in health between Black and white bodies and that these differences underpinned the maintenance of an enslaved Black plantation labor force. In The Nature of Slavery, Katherine Johnston disrupts this longstanding claim about biological racial difference. Drawing on extensive personal correspondence, colonial records, and a wealth of other sources, she reveals that planters observed no health differences between Black and white people. They made their claims about people's ability to labor in spite of their experiences, not because of them. Yet when slavery and their economic livelihoods were at stake, slaveholders and slave traders promoted a climatic dichotomy, in which Africans' and Europeans' bodies differed significantly from one another. By putting the health of enslaved laborers at significant risk, planters' actions made environmental racism a central part of Atlantic slavery.
Kirsten Silva Gruesz, Cotton Mather’s Spanish Lessons: A Story of Language, Race, and Belonging in the Early Americas (Harvard University Press, 2022) The Boston minister Cotton Mather was the first English colonial to refer to himself as an American. He was also the first to author a Spanish-language publication: La Fe del Christiano (The Faith of the Christian), a Protestant tract intended to evangelize readers across the Spanish Americas. Kirsten Silva Gruesz explores the conditions that produced La Fe del Christiano, from the intimate story of the “Spanish Indian” servants in Mather’s household, to the fragile business of printing and bookselling, to the fraught overlaps of race, ethnicity, and language that remain foundational to ideas of Latina/o/x belonging in the United States today.Mather’s Spanish project exemplifies New England’s entanglement within a partially Spanish Catholic, largely Indigenous New World. British Americans viewed Spanish not only as a set of linguistic practices, but also as the hallmark of a rival empire and a nascent racial-ethnic category. Cotton Mather’s Spanish Lessons reinvents our understanding of a key colonial intellectual, revealing notions about language and the construction of race that endure to this day.
Congratulations to these authors for their outstanding scholarship.
John Ben Snow Prize Committee