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Historian Alan Taylor, a former Stanford Humanities Center Fellow, wins second Pulitzer Prize

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Historian Alan Taylor, a former Stanford Humanities Center fellow, has won his second Pulitzer Prize for his book "The Internal Enemy" about the role of runaway slaves in the War of 1812.
Photo Credit: 
Lynn Freidman

History professor Alan Taylor has won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in history for his book The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (W.W. Norton), which chronicles how runaway slaves from the colonial era helped the British capture Washington D.C., during the War of 1812.

This is the second Pulitzer for Taylor, a professor of history at UC Davis and a former Stanford Humanities Center fellow.

“Alan Taylor has established himself as the preeminent historian of a relatively neglected period in American history: the era of the War of 1812,” said Caroline Winterer, Stanford professor of history and director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

Taylor won his first Pulitzer in 1996 for his book William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic, which details the settling of Cooperstown, N.Y. and two of the community's most famous residents: Founder William Cooper, and his son, The Last of the Mohicans novelist James Fenimore Cooper.

As outlined in Taylor’s most recent book, American slaves used their knowledge of the countryside and waterways, to serve as guides, pilots and sailors for the British. In return for their assistance, the British emancipated the slaves enabling them to relocate to such places as Bermuda, Trinidad and Nova Scotia.

“With this splendid new book he reveals the surprising role that runaway slaves in Virginia played in the War of 1812 and its aftermath. We’re thrilled that one of our former fellows is being recognized with the extraordinary honor of a second Pulitzer Prize,” Winterer also noted.

Taylor was an External Fellow for the 2003-04 academic year at the Stanford Humanities Center, working on his book, The Dividing Ground: Natives, Settlers, and the Boundaries of the American Revolution.

Proving that even the best historians can be caught by surprise, Taylor recalled how he came upon documents telling of escaped slaves who helped the British during the War of 1812.

“This is a story I had known nothing about and I was supposed to be a specialist,” said Taylor in a UC Davis press release.

In August, Taylor will take the position of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Chair in the department of History at the University of Virginia. A sort of literary homecoming for the historian, The Internal Enemy also tells of how the white Virginia plantation community simultaneously advocated for independence from the British and feared rebellion by the slaves.