A wide-angled account of the decades of political and economic decisions that culminated in the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and a sweeping study of the policy of Native American removal in the 1830s have won this year’s Bancroft Prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.
Andy Horowitz’s “Katrina: A History, 1915-2015,” published by Harvard University Press, was described by the jury as “a masterful and gripping reconstruction of an unnatural disaster,” which “decenters the devastating hurricane and flooding” in 2005 to provide a “richly researched environmental, social, urban and political history of New Orleans.”
Reviewing the book in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Scott W. Stern credited Horowitz, an assistant professor at Tulane University, with writing a book that stands as “an argument for the relevance of history itself.”
The second winner, Claudio Saunt’s “Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory,” published by W.W. Norton, was described by the prize committee as a “brilliant, searing account” of the 1830s policy of “Indian removal,” which resulted in “the state-sponsored expulsion of an estimated 80,000 native peoples from their homes east of the Mississippi River and brutal deportation to an ill-defined ‘Indian Territory’ in the West.”
Reviewing the book last year in The New York Times, Jennifer Szalai credited Saunt, a professor at the University of Georgia, with writing “a powerful and lucid account, weaving together events with the people who experienced them up close.” The book, she wrote, emphasized the connections between the expansion of slavery and the policy of Indigenous removal, which politicians learned to present “as a benevolent program to rescue native people from ‘extinction.’”
The Bancroft, which includes an award of $10,000, was established in 1948 by the trustees of Columbia University, with a bequest from the historian Frederic Bancroft. Books are evaluated for “the scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation.”