An innovative study of Black Americans’ struggle against discrimination in transportation and a sweeping examination of Chinese migration to goldfields across the Anglophone world in the 19th century have won this year’s Bancroft Prize, which is considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.
Mia Bay’s “Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance,” published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, was described by the jury as “a major intervention in our understanding of the civil rights movement and the everyday life of racial domination,” which draws on “exhaustive and imaginative research in trade publications, litigation records, memoirs, oral histories and the press.”
Reviewing the book for The New York Times, Jennifer Szalai called it a “superb history” that turns “the question of literal movement” into “a way to understand the civil rights movement writ large.”
The second winner, Mae Ngai’s “The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics,” published by W.W. Norton, was praised by the jury as “an extraordinary book” that “brilliantly shows us how much of the white Anglo-American world came to view the Chinese as a racially unassimilable and threatening people.”
Yunte Huang, writing in The New York Times Book Review, praised Ngai’s blending of vivid individual portraits and broader analysis of how anti-Chinese sentiment stirred up by migration was “foundational to Western identities of nation and empire,” as well as “the many ways Chinese communities were themselves agents of change” and not simply passive victims.
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.”