American Studies Network Book Prize

2016 ASN Book Prize

The 2016 ASN Book Award has been awarded to Writing for Justice: Victor Séjour, the Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, and the Age of Transatlantic Emancipations by Elèna Mortara, University of Rome Tor Vergata, published by Dartmouth College Press in 2015.

9781611687903The book provides a fascinating account of the links between the New Orleans-born French-speaking writer Victor Séjour, the affair of the kidnapping of the Jewish child Edgardo Mortara, and the author herself. Séjour, a Catholic “free man of color,” made his literary reputation in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century as a playwright and his dramatic works included a successful dramatization of the cause célèbre in which the child Mortara was seized by the Inquisition in 1858 on the orders of Pope Pius IX. Elèna Mortara identifies the family links with the child as her great-grandmother was Edgardo’s sister and present when he was seized.

The originality of the study is marked by the author’s use of a range of methodologies and the linking of a number of academic disciplines. There is a detailed historical analysis of the period she calls ‘the Era of Emancipations’ which includes a strong transatlantic link. She also provides a biographical account of Séjour’s life along with a thorough literary analysis of his writings. The personal aspect of the work adds an additional lens which illustrates how the past can be illuminated by a contemporary perspective.

The volume pays close attention to the dialogues and cross-Atlantic influences that link intellectuals and public figures on both sides of the Atlantic, especially those Europeans engaged in their own countries in national emancipatory debates (the French Affranchissement and the Italian Risorgimento) and their American abolitionist counterparts.

The systematic comparison of a number of French, Italian, and American primary sources, including newspapers, private correspondence and family archives, allows the author to shed new light on the complexity of the early transatlantic relations and pave the way for further scholarship taking into account the role that key individuals played in the definition of such an enduring exchange.

Written in a style that is accessible to the non-subject specialist, it is thus a work that advances American Studies in a number of directions. The ASN extends its warmest congratulations to Elèna Mortara.

Annoucement of the 2014 ASN Book Prize.

Announcement of the 2012 ASN Book Prize.

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