Award-Winning Pitt Historian Marcus Rediker Receives George Washington Book Prize

Issue Date: 
June 9, 2008


Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh professor of history and chair of the Department of History in the School of Arts and Sciences, received the fourth annual $50,000 George Washington Book Prize May 29 at Mount Vernon for his award-winning book The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking Penguin, 2007).

Administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., the prize, which honors the prior year’s most-important new book about America’s founding era, was presented to Rediker during a black-tie dinner followed by fireworks and candlelit tours of Mount Vernon.

“One of the things I wanted to do in this book was to make our understanding of the slave trade concrete—hence, my subtitle, ‘a human history’—because I think our capacity to live with injustice depends to some extent on making it abstract,” said Rediker, whose fierce opposition to the death penalty was the inspiration for The Slave Ship and its exploration of what he describes as the historic connection between race and terror.

“The George Washington Book Prize is a tremendous honor, and a surprise. I grew up in the South and went to high school in Virginia, so George Washington and the Virginia aristocracy always loomed large in my mind. It’s where I first came to understand issues of race and class, and I’ve been working on them ever since.”

Rediker’s book was named the winner by a panel of two representatives from each of the three institutions that created and sponsor the prize—Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City, and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association—plus historian Patricia Bonomi of New York University.

Created in 2005, the George Washington Book Prize was awarded in its inaugural year to Ron Chernow for Alexander Hamilton (Penguin Press, 2004) and in 2006 to Stacy Schiff for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America (Henry Holt and Co., 2005). This is the second time it has been awarded for a book on the slave trade. Last year, it went to Charles Rappleye for Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution (Simon and Schuster, 2006).

Rediker has received other honors for The Slave Ship. In March, he was selected winner of the 2008 Merle Curti Award by the Organization of American Historians, who bestowed the honor at its annual meeting in New York City.

At Pitt since 1994, Rediker also is the author of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Beacon Press/Verso, 2004); The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Beacon Press/Verso, 2000); Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture, and Society, Volume 1 (Pantheon Books, 1989); and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (Cambridge University Press, 1987).

Rediker’s writings have been translated into French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. His many honors include a 2001 International Labor History Book Prize, a 1988 Merle Curti Social History Book Award, and a 1988 John Hope Franklin Book Prize. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. In addition, the Organization of American Historians named him Distinguished Lecturer for 2002 through 2008.