The historians Melvin Patrick Ely, Michael J. Klarman and Michael O'Brien have won the 2005 Bancroft Prizes, Columbia University announced  Wednesday.
The prizes, which carry an award of $10,000 each, go each year to distinguished works in the fields of history or American diplomacy.
Ely, professor of history and black studies at the College of William and Mary, was recognized for Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf). The Bancroft jury said the book, about the experiences of a free black community in Virginia in the early 1800s, "succeeds in illuminating both individual lives and large structures, both limits and possibilities, and the result is a complex and arresting story that will make us all think harder about the history of race relations in the antebellum South."
Klarman, the James Monroe Distinguished Professor of Law and professor of history at the University of Virginia, won for From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Oxford University Press). The jury said Klarman's book "is not only our best account of Brown, its antecedents and consequences, but also goes well beyond that important story to make a larger set of arguments about the role of the Supreme Court in helping to bring about social change."
O'Brien, reader in American history at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of Jesus College, was honored for Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860 (two volumes, University of North Carolina Press). The jurors said: "In what can only be described as magisterial fashion, O'Brien has chronicled the lives and works of antebellum Southern writers and thinkers -- from dissenters like the Grimke sisters to the man Richard Hofstader called the Marx of the Master Class, John C. Calhoun, and almost everyone in between."