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Omohundro Institute book receives top history prize

An Omohundro Institute (OI) book co-edited by a William & Mary professor is one of three 2018 Bancroft Prize winners, Columbia University recently announced.

bookThe honor marks the seventh Bancroft Prize in the OI’s 75-year history and the first for author Douglas L. Winiarski, professor of religious studies at the University of Richmond. William & Mary is a founding sponsor of the OI, an independent research organization housed at William & Mary. Paul Mapp, an associate professor of history at W&M, worked on the manuscript with Winiarski while Mapp served as interim editor of books for the institute.

Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England, which the OI published last year in partnership with the University of North Carolina Press, offers a sweeping history of popular religion in eighteenth-century New England. Winiarski focuses on the voices and experiences of the ordinary men and women who were the progenitors of today’s evangelicals. Seized by visions, fits and sudden conversions — all gifts of the Holy Spirit — they mounted a potent challenge to New England’s sober religious and political authorities. In the process, they transformed churches, communities and the social fabric, according to the book.

Reviewers have praised Winiarski’s book as a “richly textured account of the daily rhythms of religious life,” one that is “filled with fresh discoveries” that unfold through the stories of a “fascinating set of characters.” In addition to the Bancroft Prize, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light was named the 2017 Book of the Year by the Jonathan Edwards Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2017, and a finalist for this year's George Washington Prize. The winner will be announced in May.

Paul MappWiniarski is the recipient of multiple fellowships, including a 2003–2004 Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Omohundro Institute, which supported his work on Darkness Falls on the Land of Light. Winiarski acknowledged the work of OI staff in a post about the award on his website: “I’d like to express my deepest thanks to Fredrika Teute, Paul Mapp, Nadine Zimmerli, and Kaylan Stevenson at the Omohundro Institute for bringing DFLL to life; to Chuck Grench and the University of North Carolina Press for co-publishing and promoting the book; and, especially, to the Columbia University Libraries and the Bancroft Prize selection committee for this amazing honor!”

Zimmerli is an adjunct lecturer of history at W&M and associate editor of books for the OI.

OI Director Karin Wulf, a professor of history at W&M and co-chair of the university's Neurodiversity Working Group, underscored both the book’s scholarly achievements and the OI’s collaborative editorial process.

“The OI’s books win awards at a gratifying clip,” she said. “I’m just delighted to see Doug’s deeply researched and beautifully written investigation of how men and women created and experienced religiosity in New England’s critical eighteenth century join our stable of Bancroft winners. His book is a testament to his talent, and to the OI’s commitment to an editorial practice that is intensive and collaborative.”

Previous OI authors who received the Bancroft Prize include: Winthrop D. Jordan for White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812 in 1969, Gordon S. Wood for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 in 1970, followed by Thomas M. Doerflinger for A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia in 1987 and James H. Merrell for The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal in 1990. More recently, Philip D. Morgan received the Bancroft Prize for Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry in 1999, followed by James F. Brooks in 2003 for his Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands.

The Bancroft Prizes are awarded annually by Columbia University to reward books of exceptional scope, significance, depth of research, and richness of interpretation. Established by a bequest from historian and librarian Frederic Bancroft in 1948, the prize is among the most prestigious awards available to American historians.