International book prizes awarded to faculty authors

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(from left: Alexandrov, Mikhail, Shapiro, Van Vleck, Drixler)

Four Yale faculty members have been awarded book prizes by the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. Fabian Drixler and Jenifer Van Vleck each received the Gaddis Smith International Book Prize for best first book. The Gustav Ranis International Book Prize for best book was awarded to both Alan Mikhail and Vladimir Alexandrov.

The prizes — established in 2004 to recognize the distinguished legacy of two former directors of the MacMillan Center — are awarded for books on international topics written by current members of the Yale faculty.

The faculty members’ winning books and the judges’ descriptions follow:

Fabian Drixler, assistant professor of history, received the award for “Mabiki: Infanticide and Population Growth in Eastern Japan, 1660-1950”(University of California Press, 2013).

“Mabiki” is the story of a society reversing deeply held worldviews and revolutionizing its demography. In these pages, the long conflict over the meaning of infanticide comes to life once again. Those who killed babies saw themselves as responsible parents to their chosen children. Those who opposed infanticide redrew the boundaries of humanity so as to encompass newborn infants and exclude those who would not raise them.

Jenifer Van Vleck, assistant professor of history and American studies, was awarded the prize for “Empire of the Air: Aviation and the American Ascendancy” (Harvard University Press, 2013).

“Empire of the Air” reveals the central role commercial aviation played in the United States’ rise to global preeminence in the 20th century. As it accelerated the global circulation of U.S. capital, consumer goods, technologies, weapons, popular culture, and expertise, few places remained distant from the influence of Wall Street and Washington. By the late 1960s, however, foreign airlines and governments were challenging America’s control of global airways, and the domestic aviation industry hit turbulent times. Just as the history of commercial aviation helps to explain the ascendance of American power, its subsequent challenges reflect the limits and contradictions of the American Century.

Vladimir Alexandrov, the B.E. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures, was awarded the prize for “The Black Russian” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013), the true story of Frederick Bruce Thomas.

Born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi, Thomas left the south and eventually traveled to London, then crisscrossed Europe, and — in a highly unusual choice for a black American at the time — went to Russia. He became a rich and famous owner of variety theaters and restaurants until the Bolshevik Revolution ruined him. He escaped to Constantinople where he made another fortune by opening celebrated nightclubs as the “Sultan of Jazz.” However, the long arm of American racism, the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic, and Thomas’s own extravagance landed him in debtor’s prison. He died in Constantinople in 1928. 

Alan Mikhail, professor of history received the award for “The Animal in Ottoman Egypt”(Oxford University Press, 2014).

This book puts the history of human-animal relations at the center of the transformations of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The history of the empire’s most important province, Egypt, is used to explain how human interactions with livestock, dogs, and charismatic megafauna changed more in a few centuries than they had for millennia. The human world became one in which animals’ social and economic functions were diminished. Without animals, humans had to remake the societies they had built around the intimate and cooperative interactions between species. The political and even evolutionary consequences of this separation of people and animals were wrenching and often violent.

Award recipients will receive a research appointment at the MacMillan Center and a $5,000 research award over two years.

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