Ned Blackhawk’s ‘Rediscovery of America’ wins National Book Award

Historian Ned Blackhawk’s sweeping volume, which recognizes the centrality of Native Americans in U.S. history, won the National Book Award in nonfiction.
Ned Blackhawk

Ned Blackhawk (Portrait by Dan Renzetti)

Yale historian Ned Blackhawk has won a National Book Award for “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History,” an ambitious and sweeping volume that documents the central role of Native Americans in the political and cultural life of the country.

Blackhawk, the Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American Studies in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), received the award in the nonfiction category at a ceremony Nov. 15 in Manhattan.

The Rediscovery of America,” published by Yale University Press, recontextualizes five centuries of U.S. history by putting Indigenous peoples at its center. Blackhawk “rejects the myth that Native Americans fell quick and easy victims to European invaders,” said a New York Times reviewer, and instead “asserts that they were central to every century of U.S. historical development.”

In accepting the award, Blackhawk, a member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, said he was “extraordinarily humbled” to be honored for what was a project that was a very long time in the making.

American Indian history, he said, “is a rich and vibrant field that provides uncommon and uncommonly beautiful insights. By example, it is difficult to convey how beleaguered, impoverished, and generally marginalized Native nations have often been in contemporary America.”

Related,” he continued, “it is similarly difficult to convey how astute, capable and, at times, successful Native nations and their citizens have been in achieving secured protections of their lands, resources and sovereign authority.”

The book is dedicated to his wife, Maggie Blackhawk, and Yale’s Native American Cultural Center community.

The other finalists in the nonfiction category were Cristina Rivera Garza’s “Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice;” Christina Sharpe’s “Ordinary Notes;” Raja Shehadeh’s “We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir;” and John Vaillant’s “Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World.”

Alan Mikhail, the Chace Family Professor of History and chair of Yale’s Department of History, said Blackhawk’s book “is no less than a wholesale recasting of American history through a Native lens.

It is the kind of book that tilts the axis of what we know, the kind of book that the Yale History Department produces — rigorous, crafted, insightful, significant.”

The National Book Awards are given out annually to honor the best writing in America in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature. A panel of judges selects 10 finalists in each category, then narrows that list to five before finally announcing the winners.

Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

I’m thrilled that the National Book Foundation has recognized Ned Blackhawk’s monumental achievement with ‘The Rediscovery of America,'” said FAS Dean Tamar Gendler. “It is a rich and incisive text crafted with astonishing clarity and a profound intellectual vision that powerfully recontextualizes the received account of American history.”

Blackhawk has been at Yale since 2009. He is a member of the advisory board of the Native American Cultural Center, and serves as faculty coordinator of the Yale Group for the Study of Native America and the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program.

Among his previous books is “Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West,” (Harvard, 2006) which received numerous professional awards.

Blackhawk is the second current member of Yale’s Department of History to win a National Book Award. In 2003, Carlos Eire, the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies, won in the non-fiction category for his memoir, “Waiting for Snow in Havana.”


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