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Elizabeth Fenn Wins Pulitzer Prize In History; Sven Beckert Named A Finalist

BLOOMINGTON, IN—Two Organization of American Historian (OAH) members were recognized by the Pulitzer Prize Board on April 20 at Columbia University when the board announced its 2015 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists in journalism and the arts.

Elizabeth A. Fenn, associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, was named the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for her work in American history.

The $10,000 prize was awarded to Fenn for research leading to the publication of her 2014 book, "Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People." In the work, Fenn documents the rise and fall of the Mandan Indians, a plains tribe who founded thriving communities on the upper Missouri River, from 1100 to 1845.

As early as 1500, there were more than 12,000 Mandan people who lived on America's northern plains. Renowned for their skills in commerce and agriculture, the Mandans were still a strong, hospitable tribe when American explorers Lewis & Clark spent the winter of 1804-05 with them. By 1838, however, their numbers were reduced to just 300 people due to famine, smallpox, whooping cough, and cholera.

Through new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science, Fenn's research delves deeply into Mandan culture, migrations, food sources, intertribal conflicts, and health. Her book, described as "simultaneously scholarly and highly readable," enriches the American narrative not just of the Mandan tribe but the overall history of the pre-reservation U.S. plains states.

Also nominated as a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in U.S. history was OAH member Sven Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of History at Harvard University. He specializes in the economic, social, political, and transnational aspects of 19th century America.

Beckert was nominated for the Pulitzer for his book titled "Empire of Cotton: A Global History," arguably one of early America's most important commodities. The epic documents cotton's centrality to the era's global economy and understanding its origins in modern capitalism.

Becker's findings show European entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen recast the world's most significant manufacturing industry, combining imperial expansion and slave labor with new machines and wage workers to change the world. Slavery was crucial to the dynamism of the American industrial revolution.

This is the second consecutive year that an OAH member has received the Pulitzer Prize in American history. In 2014, Alan Taylor was awarded the prize for his book "The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832." The 2014 award was Taylor's second Pulitzer. His first was in 1996 for "William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic."

For information about the work of other OAH members, visit oah.org.

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Founded in 1907, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the world's largest professional association dedicated to American history scholarship. With more than 7,800 members from the U.S. and abroad, OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, encouraging wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of history practitioners. It publishes the quarterly Journal of American History, the leading scholarly publication and journal of record in the field of American history for more than nine decades. It also publishes
The American Historian magazine.