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American Bar Foundation Legal Historian Receives Prize For New Research

March 26, 2009, Press releases


Dylan Penningroth earns OAH Honor for his transforming work on property and kinship claims of African and American slaves

CHICAGO, IL – MARCH 26, 2009-American Bar Foundation research professor Dylan C. Penningroth has received the EBSCOhost America: History and Life Award from the Organization of American Historians for his article, “The Claims of Slaves and Ex-Slaves to Family and Property: A Transatlantic Comparison,” published in The American Historical Review, (October 2007).  The OAH is largest learned society devoted to the study of American history.  The History and Life award is a biennial award given to “recognize journal articles that display a pathbreaking character…, that propose new perspectives or examine new areas and in so doing extend historical knowledge and raise avenues of investigation.”  The prize will be awarded at the Annual Meeting of the OAH in Seattle, WA, on March 28, 2009.

 The  prize-winning article draws a new comparison of the practices and customs of property ownership and kinship claims by slaves and ex-slaves in the African Gold Coast region of what is now modern Ghana, with those in the American south in the 19th century.  By comparing the two systems, Penningroth demonstrates that, “In significant ways, the histories of both regions were shaped by debates about the claims that slaves and their descendents made to kinship and to the products of their labor (and how) those debates helped influence the meanings of property, slavery, and social membership for all people – not just slaves.”  In examining these two systems, Penningroth provides insight into the complex relationships between family and property that existed in both regions, and identifies rich new areas of exploration to the links between African and American history.

David Brion Davis, the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and renowned expert on the study of American slavery, writes: “Dylan Penningroth has transformed our understanding of slave families while also revealing wholly new facts about the counter-intuitive subject of slave property --- that is, property owned or claimed by slaves.”

 Penningroth, who holds a joint appointment at the American Bar Foundation and as the Wayne V. Jones Research Professor in history at Northwestern University, specializes in African American history, comparative histories of slavery and emancipation, and socio-legal history.  His book, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth Century South, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2003.  He holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

 Robert L. Nelson, director of the American Bar Foundation said, "We congratulate Dylan Penningroth on this prestigious award.” He added, “The award recognizes the significance of Dylan’s historical findings.  His comparative analysis reveals the deep connections between systems of property law and systems of slavery.  We look forward to his future groundbreaking scholarship at the ABF.”

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