Congratulations James Sweet, 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize winner

Dr. James Sweet, UW-Madison Professor of History, has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize for his book, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World.

The book traces the steps of African healer and vodum priest Domingos Álvares, who traversed the colonial Atlantic World from Africa to South America to Europe between 1730 and 1750. The book unfolds a world where healing, religion, kinship, and political subversion were intimately connected.Through healing, Álvares addressed the alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade.

“As a result, he and other African healers frequently ran afoul of imperial power brokers. Nevertheless, even the powerful suffered isolation in the Atlantic world and often turned to African healers for answers. In this way, healers simultaneously became fierce critics of Atlantic imperialism and expert translators of it, adapting their therapeutic strategies in order to secure social relevance and even power. By tracing Álvares’ frequent uprooting and border crossing, Sweet illuminates how African healing practices evolved in the diaspora, contesting the social and political hierarchies of imperialism while also making profound impacts on the intellectual discourse of the “modern” Atlantic world.”

“James Sweet’s thoughtful and moving book about African healer Domingos Álvares provides much more than a biographical portrait of a remarkable 18th century man…Rather, Sweet’s imaginative reconstruction of Álvares’ life in and out of bondage places African worldviews at the center of Atlantic history. In the tradition of Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms, he illuminates the very ethos animating Álvares’ struggles in Benin, Brazil, and Portugal. In Sweet’s powerful rendering, Álvares’ constant emphasis on healing, divination, communal belonging, and cultural resistance prefigured more familiar anti-colonialist and abolitionist struggles. Domingos Álvares also makes a compelling case for redefining the intellectual history of Atlantic society from Africans’perspectives.” -Richard Newman, 2012 Douglass Prize Jury Chair and Professor of History at Rochester Institute of Technology

Dr. Sweet’s research and teaching interests focus on the social and cultural histories of Africans and their descendants in the broader world. His course topics include comparative slavery, race and nation in the Atlantic world, comparative world history, the history of Brazil, and the history of South Africa. He is also researching the international dimensions of slavery in the United States.

Named for Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), the slave who escaped bondage to emerge as one of the great American abolitionists, reformers, writers, and orators of the 19th century, the Douglass Prize was created in 1999 by Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. It is awarded annually for the best book written in English on slavery or abolition. The $25,000 prize will be presented to Dr. Sweet at a reception in New York City in February 2013. 

In addition to Sweet, the other finalists for the prize were Robin Blackburn for The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Verso Books); R. Blakeslee Gilpin for John Brown Still Lives!: America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change (University of North Carolina Press); and Carla L. Peterson for Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale University Press).

The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition promotes the study of all aspects of slavery and its destruction.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a public charity devoted to the improvement of history education.


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