Erminie Wheeler-Voeglin Book Prize, 2017

Congratulations to James Brooks, the author of Mesa of Sorrows: A History of the Awat’ovi Massacre, published by W. W. Norton and Company, for winning the 2017 Erminie Wheeler Voeglin Book Prize.

The prize committee consisting of Laura Matthew, Jon Parmenter, and Justin Carroll, is please to award this year’s Erminie Wheeler-Voeglin prize for the best book of ethnohistory published in 2016 to Brooks’s painstaking, multidisciplinary inquiry into a difficult event in the Hopi past transports the reader across broad swaths of time, from the eleventh century to contemporary times. Seeking to explain a story whose ghosts trouble (and are troubled by) the present, Brooks analyzes written sources, indigenous oral tradition, ceramics, and human remains. His microhistory of a single, unoccupied site becomes a regional history in which the Hopi confront enduring questions of inclusion, exclusion, and how to define the limits of community in relation to outsiders. Mesa of Sorrows also brings the academy’s tradition of linear, past-to-present narrative into conversation with Hopi traditions of historical thinking. As he puts it, “What if our present were already active in our past? What if our present is nothing more than a past foretold?” (116). At the point where these two traditions meet, the site of Awat’ovi stands as a silent reminder and a warning of future cycles of destruction and rebirth, of difficult moments when the “twin forces of absorbing new neighbors and excluding aliens” (220) might once again come to a head. Finally, Mesa of Sorrows highlights the power and potential of the ethnohistorical method through its deft interplay of sources – textual and non-textual, archaeological and physical, remembered and obliquely glimpsed – and the critical eye it turns on the practice of ethnohistory itself. We congratulate Dr. Brooks on this fine achievement.

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