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Pace University professor Jean Fagan Yellin wins prize for “captivating,” “superb” research on literate woman held in slavery
American Historical Association’s Jameson Prize given only once in five years
New York, NY, February 17, 2010– Jean Fagan Yellin, an emerita professor of English at Pace University and the scholar whose research rescued from obscurity Harriet Jacobs, the only woman held in slavery who wrote her own narrative of life in the “peculiar institution,” has won the American Historical Association’s. J. Franklin Jameson Prize.
Given only once every five years, the prize recognizes “outstanding achievement in the editing of historical sources.”
Referring to the last of Yellin’s three books about Jacobs, “The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers” (Duke University Press, 2008), the citation says Yellin’s work is “vivid,” “captivating,” and “superb”:
“Drawing on prodigious research in numerous archives, Jean Fagan Yellin and her assistant editors provide a remarkably vivid portrait of Harriet Jacobs and her world. The documents themselves are captivating, but so too are Yellin’s efforts to interpret them through her superb introduction, extensive notes, helpful biographical sketches, and other editorial elements. These two elegant and beautifully illustrated volumes, along with the accompanying CD-ROM, are an extraordinary resource for researchers and teachers alike.”
Joseph Thomas was Executive Editor of the book, and Kate Culkin and Scott Korb were Associate Editors. Yellin also credits the research work of “generations of Pace students.” The award was announced at the American Historical Association’s annual convention in January.
Advent of an icon
Previously, Yellin had won the $25,000 Frederick Douglass Prize for the year’s best non-fiction book on slavery, resistance and/or abolition, and the William Sanders Scarborough Prize from the Modern Language Association, both for her Jacobs biography, “Harriet Jacobs, A Life” (Basic Civitas, 2004). Earlier she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for “Women and Sisters: The Anti-Slavery Feminists in American Culture” (Yale University Press, 1989). Pace awarded her an honorary degree in 2007.
Yellin is widely acknowledged for playing a catalytic role in making Jacobs an iconic figure whose recognition is fast approaching that of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. What distinguishes Jacobs from Truth and Tubman is her literacy. Unlike most slaves, she was taught to write. She is the only known slave to have recorded first-hand accounts of the particular indignities women faced in slavery, of her struggle to write her life story, and of the cruel Reconstruction-era milieu.
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