Tomiko Brown-Nagin receives the 2012 Bancroft Prize

Columbia University announced on March 14 that a recent book by Tomiko Brown-Nagin will be awarded the 2012 Bancroft Prize. Her award-winning book “Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement” (Oxford University Press, 2011) was cited for offering a startling new perspective on the Civil Rights movement.

Brown-Nagin, a leading expert on legal history, constitutional law, and civil rights, will join the Harvard Law School faculty as a tenured professor of law this summer. In addition to teaching at the law school, she will also serve as an affiliate of the history department in Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She is currently the T. Munford Boyd Professor of Law and Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School.

The Bancroft Prize is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University. Winners are judged in terms of the scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation they present in the areas of American history and diplomacy. There were 175 books nominated that were considered for the 2012 prize.

Said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow: “It is fabulous to see Tomiko Brown-Nagin’s groundbreaking study of the civil rights movement recognized by the Bancroft Prize. This important award honors rigorous and detailed scholarship informed by rich theoretical debates and infused with originality of conception. I know the Law School, the Harvard History Department, and the broader University eagerly look forward to her arrival here this summer where her talents and commitments will bring so much to our community.”

Reacting to the news of the prize, Brown-Nagin said: “I’m very grateful to the Bancroft Prize committee for its recognition of the book. More than an honor for me, it’s a wonderful tribute to the unsung lawyers and activists featured in the work, and an affirmation of constitutional history from bottom-up, local perspectives—complex, even irreconcilable perspectives.”

This year’s Bancroft Prize winners include Ann Hyde, a professor at Colorado College, who won for her “Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860” (University of Nebraska Press, 2011) and Daniel T. Rodgers, a professor at Princeton University, who won for “Age of Fracture” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011).

Columbia Provost John H. Coatsworth will present the awards at the Bancroft Prize dinner next month, hosted by Columbia’s department of history and Columbia University Libraries. The Bancroft Prize, which includes an award of $10,000 to each author, is administered by University Librarian and Vice President for Information Services, James G. Neal.

Historical scholarship with innovative and rigorous re-examinations and exciting boundary challenges, as evidenced by the content and scope of this year’s Bancroft Prize winners, is so worthy of our celebration and recognition. We applaud the excellence in research, writing and thought demonstrated by the three works selected this year,” Neal said.

Brown-Nagin has written widely on legal history and civil rights, including numerous law and history journal articles, book chapters, essays and book reviews. A reviewer in the Journal of American History hailed “Courage to Dissent” a “model for integrating the national and local histories of civil rights struggles” that “succeeds brilliantly as both narrative history and legal analysis.” She is currently working on a biography of Constance Baker Motley, the civil rights lawyer, politician, and federal judge.

The Bancroft Prize was established at Columbia University in 1948 with a bequest from Frederic Bancroft, a preeminent historian, librarian, author, and Columbia University lecturer. It is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history.