David Wheat Wins the 2017 Harriet Tubman Book Prize

The Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is delighted to announce that David Wheat’s Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640 is the winner of its second annual Harriet Tubman Prize. The $7,500 prize is awarded to the best nonfiction book published in the United States on the slave trade, slavery, and anti-slavery in the Atlantic World. Wheat will receive the award on November 16 during the Lapidus Center’s inaugural conference, “Reckoning with Slavery: New Directions in the History, Memory, Legacy, and Popular Representations of Enslavement.”

A jury of three historians—Howard Dodson, Director Emeritus of the Schomburg Center; Anthony Bogues, Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory and Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University; and Stephanie Smallwood, Associate Professor of History at the University of Washington and Lapidus Center Advisor—selected the winner among three finalists chosen by a committee of scholars and librarians from various parts of the country. The other finalists were Matthew Karp for This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders At The Helm of American Foreign Policy and Wendy Warren for New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America.

In Atlantic Africa, published by the University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute, Wheat, an Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University resituates the Spanish Caribbean as an extension of the Luso-African Atlantic world when the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns facilitated a surge in the transatlantic slave trade. After the catastrophic decline of Amerindian populations on the islands, men, women and children from Upper Guinea and then Angola, brought distinct experiences to the Caribbean. They played a dynamic role in the social formation of early Spanish colonial society in the fortified port cities of Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Panama City and their semi-rural hinterlands.

“Prior to the 1770’s, African peoples, enslaved and free, constituted the majority of the people involved in the European colonization of the Americas,” noted the jury, “Wheat’s exploration of the impact of this demographic fact in the Spanish Caribbean is innovative. This is a meticulously researched and documented account of the early African presence, which is well written and suggestive of new ways in which we should think of Atlantic slavery.”

“I am deeply grateful to the Lapidus Center,” Wheat said upon learning of the prize, “and to the reading and selection committees for this tremendous honor.”

On April 24, at the invitation of the Lapidus Center, David Wheat was in conversation with Herman Bennett. The program was co-sponsored by the The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Watch the video here.

David Wheat and Herman Bennett. Photo William Farrington.