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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

UC Davis history professor wins Pulitzer Prize

UC Davis history professor Alan Taylor recently won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in history for his book “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1771-1832.”

The book explains why runaway slaves in this colonial time period felt motivated to help the British cause during the War of 1812. Hoping to be liberated, escaped slaves helped the British military as sailors and guides throughout the sea and country. In return for their aid, the slaves were granted freedom by the British.

“The novel is about how slavery changed in the wake of the American Revolution and the worsened conditions for enslaved people,” Taylor said. “The War of 1812 presented an opportunity for some to escape together by British warships and reunited families.”

Taylor’s inspiration for writing the book originated 12 years ago. While working on research for another project, Taylor discovered documents regarding how slaves helped the British gain Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. In 2010, Taylor returned to these documents for further research.

Taylor says that the book proves that the U.S. was not as freedom-oriented as citizens would often like to believe.

“We usually think of the United States of being founded in freedom, but it’s not,” Taylor said.

Although this is Taylor’s second time winning the Pulitzer Prize, he still felt shocked when he received the award for his book.

“I felt surprised, pleased and gratified,” Taylor said.

Dean of Social Sciences George R. Mangun said that he too felt elated that Taylor won the prize.

“I was more than thrilled,” Mangun said. “This is a tremendous accomplishment. We were at least as stunned as he [Taylor] said he was.”

Mangun also believes that Taylor’s accomplishment shows the quality of faculty at UC Davis.

“It’s another of many, many examples of high quality faculty at UC Davis,” Mangun said. “It’s not really surprising considering our reputation and that we are one of the top universities. This is another example of what our faculty achieves and what it brings to the table.”

A teacher at UC Davis since 1994, Taylor has written many other books, including “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic,” which details the settling of Cooperstown, N.Y., as well as the lives of founder William Cooper and his son, author James Fenimore Cooper, who created fictionalized stories about Cooperstown. This book won Taylor his first Pulitzer Prize in 1996.

In August, Taylor will become chair of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.

ALYSSA VANDENBERG can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

Courtesy photo.


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