Of more than 90 books about slavery and abolition, Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition has chosen a “profoundly original” work upon which to bestow the 16th annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize: Word by Word, by Trinity’s Christopher Hager, associate professor of English.
In Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing, Hager studies the various writings of everyday slaves, including letters, diaries, and petitions by freedmen. Through them, he examines the relationship between literacy and freedom. For this research, he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2009.
“The emancipation of American slaves was not only a social and political revolution but also a singular moment in the history of written expression,” Hager said. “Untold thousands of African Americans who had been deprived of literacy gained unprecedented access to education at the same time they achieved their freedom.”
This summer, the book was named a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Book Prize, along with Camillia Cowling’s Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro and Alan Taylor’s The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832. Word by Word was also a finalist for the 2014 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize.
“Christopher Hager’s Word by Word presents a profoundly original, illuminating approach to reading texts by and about enslaved African Americans,” the jury said of their choice for the prize.
“It’s a great honor to win the Frederick Douglass Prize,” said Hager. “I began working on Word by Word around the time I arrived at Trinity in 2007, and my research generated not only the book but also a class I teach, ‘Literacy & Literature.’ I owe a debt to the Trinity students who have taken that class with me, and to our discussions of some of the material that went into Word by Word.”
The Frederick Douglass Book Prize was jointly established by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Hager at a ceremony in New York in January 2015. For more information, visit the Gilder Lehrman Center’s website.