The Society of American Historians has awarded Samantha Payne, assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, the 2023 Allan Nevins Prize for her dissertation, “The Last Atlantic Revolution: Reconstruction and the Struggle for Democracy in the Americas, 1861–1912.”
Named in honor of the SAH’s founder and established in 1961, the Allan Nevins Prize is awarded annually for the best-written doctoral dissertation on a significant subject in American history and carries a $2,000 award. The prizewinning work is published by one of the distinguished houses that support the prize: Basic Books; University of California Press; Cambridge University Press; University of Chicago Press; Columbia University Press; Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Hill and Wang; Harvard University Press; Henry Holt; Alfred A. Knopf; W. W. Norton and Company; University of North Carolina Press; Oxford University Press; Princeton University Press; Random House; Simon and Schuster; and Yale University Press.
According to the SAH, “Payne’s dissertation is an extraordinary historical provocation. Embracing the challenges and reaping the rewards of transnational and comparative history, Payne has written a transformative study of the end of slavery in United States, Cuba and Brazil, the last three slaveholding societies in the Atlantic world.
“The jury was impressed by Payne’s intellectual ambition, by her use of sources from diplomatic correspondence to the Black press, by her ability to embody abstract ideas in the language and actions of human actors and by the clarity and grace of her prose,” the society continued in a press release. “Reading Payne reminds us that discoveries by historians can break your heart, but in the hands of a scholar with humane commitments, those discoveries can sometimes help us imagine routes to a better future.”
Payne – who joined the College’s faculty in August 2022 – is a transnational historian of the U.S. Civil War, with particular interests in slavery, race and abolition. She earned her B.A. in history from the College of William & Mary and her Ph.D. from Harvard University.
“This is an amazing honor for one of the brightest stars among the College’s junior faculty,” says Jason Coy, chair of the Department of History, adding that Payne is currently working on “an important transnational project about slavery, emancipation and politics in the Atlantic world.”
“My work also intersects with the themes of capitalism, democracy and Black internationalism,” explains Payne. “One cool thing about my research is that it draws on archival sources in English, Spanish and Portuguese – which is fun for a U.S. historian!”
From its inception 1957, the Society of American Historians’ chief activity has been to identify and celebrate distinguished historical writing, seeking to bring good historical writing to the largest possible audience. An important step in that direction was taken in 1954 when the society initiated the magazine American Heritage. To encourage literary distinction in the writing of history, the Nevins dissertation prize recognizes well-written new scholarship on important themes in American history.