UNL Professor Wins Prestigious Bancroft Award
jacobsUNL professor wins prestigious Bancroft Award
“I was just stunned,” UNL history professor Margaret Jacobs said of learning she had won the highly prestigious Bancroft Award. “I just thought, ‘I can’t believe it.’”

The Bancroft Prize, administered by Columbia University, is widely considered among the most prestigious awards for history, was for Jacobs’ book “White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940,” published in 2009 by the University of Nebraska Press. The awards were announced March 17.

The history professor and director of UNL’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program began her work on the book 12 years ago, when she traveled to Australia for a conference and decided to stay an extra week to do some research. At that time, Jacobs had just finished her first book, “Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879-1934″ (NU Press, 1999), which explored the relationships between white women and Pueblo women. She was interested to see how white women had interacted with Aboriginal women in Australia, and if there were any parallels.

What she found was extensive research on Australia’s lost generation – a generation of aboriginal removed from their parents, often by white women, for the sake of assimilation. In reading about the lost generation, Jacobs began thinking of the United States’ history with placing Native American children in boarding schools, and she wondered if the parallels between the two countries’ treatment of indigenous children and families had been studied.

Ultimately, Jacobs spent 10 years researching the removal of indigenous children from their families, as well as the role that white women played in that. In the course of her research, she returned to Australia twice – once on a Fulbright grant. She also visited 11 U.S. states.

During her research, Jacobs often thought of her own two small children.

“You sit in these dusty archives reading these old documents, and you see the callousness with which some officials viewed American Indian or Aboriginal family life, that it was no big deal to take these children away,” she said. Interviews, letters and oral histories from those who were removed from their families, however, convey that the trauma of removal lasted into adulthood, she said.

“They really conveyed how baffling this was for them, and how traumatic, especially for the children who were removed at a time when they could remember it.” University of Nebraska Press Native American and Indigenous Studies Editor Matthew Bokovoy said Jacobs’ research was a contribution to the scholarship of U.S. history, Australian history and indigenous studies.

David Manderscheid, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, agreed.

“This is a great honor for professor Jacobs and well deserved,” he said. “She has written a wonderful book that offers an enlightening and fascinating transnational perspective. Her scholarship is a shining example of the outstanding work being done by our faculty.”

“White Mother to a Dark Race” was one of three books to receive this year’s Bancroft Prize. The others are “Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits,” by Linda Gordon (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009); and “Abigail Adams,” by Woody Holton (New York: Free Press, 2009).

The winners will be formally recognized at an awards dinner on April 21 at Columbia University in New York. Each author will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

University of Nebraska Press director Donna Shear said the honor reflected a long tradition of publishing quality scholarship in Native American and Indigenous studies, and U.S. history.

“Our press is well-known for the indigenous studies titles that we publish,” Shear said. “This is a great honor for Margaret Jacobs, for our Native studies titles and editor, for our press, and for the University of Nebraska as a whole.”
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