Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Cromwell Dissertation Prize to Lande

Another highlight from last week's annual meeting of the ASLH: the announcement by John D. Gordan III of the legal history awards that the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation generously supports every year.  This year's Cromwell Dissertation Prize, awarded to "the best dissertation in any area of American legal history," went to Jonathan Lande (currently a professor at Weber State University) for “Disciplining Freedom: U.S. Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation During the Civil War" (Brown University, 2018).

A citation from the prize committee:
At least since William Cooper Nell penned The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution in 1855, historians have linked African-American military service with manhood and citizenship. Black regiments in the Civil War have received considerable attention. Black service has rightly been deemed central to the North’s victory and an important step for both African-Americans’ assertion of sacrifice for and citizenship in the post-Civil War world. In his pathbreaking dissertation “Disciplining Freedom: U.S. Army Slave Rebels and Emancipation in the Civil War,” Jonathan Lande boldly argues that the conventional account is incomplete. Centering on the records of the courts martial and contextualizing them with administrative and personal sources, Lande uncovers deep northern anxiety about arming the formerly enslaved. Despite free labor ideological commitments, northern officers carried with them the albatross of slavery and white supremacy into courts martial proceedings against black soldiers. The courts martial produced minimalistic records, seemingly straightforward, and therefore deceptively equitable in their treatment of all soldiers, regardless of color. Lande’s textured reading of the records reveals them as sites of conflict. Far from being “schools” about the value of equal justice for the freedmen, these courts martial proceedings were means to discipline the formerly enslaved. For their part, freedmen continued on in their old traditions of resistance against oppression. Their experience of freedom and understanding of civic membership, Lande argues, was, in important ways, born of this struggle.
The members of this year's Cromwell Dissertation Prize Committee were H. Robert Baker (Chair) (Georgia State University); Mary Sarah Bilder (Boston College); Lisa Ford (University of New South Wales); Sarah Seo (University of Iowa); and Laura Weinrib (Harvard University). We thank them for their service and offer our congratulations to Jonathan Lande!

-- Karen Tani