November 19, 2010

Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America, by Hilary Moss, assistant professor of black studies and history, has been honored with the History of Education Society’s (HES) 2010 award for the year’s most outstanding book on the history of education.

The HES Book Prize Committee annually solicits nominations for the award, and this year, 22 publications were nominated. The group first narrowed their choice to five finalists and then reread these volumes carefully, evaluating each book’s thesis and supporting arguments, the work’s significance to the field, its use of sources and its aesthetic qualities. Schooling Citizens came out on top because the committee believed it to be “an important contribution to the historiography of American education, focusing as it does on the purpose of public education,” said HES Book Prize Committee Chair Amy Thompson McCandless, professor of history and dean of the Graduate School at the College of Charleston, in an announcement about the prize. “Well-argued and well written, it deals with issues of race, class, ethnicity, religion and gender that continue to confront educators from pre-school to post-doctoral levels in the 21st century.”

Hilary Moss

“I have been with this project for some time, and it has come to mean a great deal to me,” commented Moss, of Schooling Citizens. “It is gratifying to learn that other scholars in my field appreciate the work that I have done and feel like I have done justice to this history. I am also hopeful such validation will entice more people to go out and read the book, particularly those who want to know how and why race so often influences educational opportunity.”

According to Schooling Citizens, as common schooling emerged in the 1830s and provided white children of all classes and ethnicities with the opportunity to become full-fledged citizens, it redefined citizenship as synonymous with whiteness. This link between school and American identity, Moss argues in the book, increased hostility among whites about educating blacks at the same time that it spurred African Americans to demand public schooling. Complicating matters was the fact that education for blacks in the antebellum U.S., she explains, was a means of securing status as full and equal members of society.  To get a better handle on the situation faced by African Americans in the country at that time, Moss looked at the experiences of residents in the early 19th century in three very different cities: Baltimore, Boston and New Haven, Conn. Through the comparative lenses of these three cities, she shows in Schooling Citizen why opposition erupted where it did across the United States during the same period that gave rise to public education. 

A historian of education and the African American experience, Moss has long been interested in understanding how communities decide whom they will and will not educate. In addition to studying such educational disparities, she teaches courses on African American experience from the slave trade to the present. She earned her a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s and doctorate from Brandeis University. Read more about Schooling Citizens at the University of Chicago Press.

The History of Education Society is an international scholarly society affiliated with the International Standing Conference for the History of Education. It publishes the History of Education Quarterly journal.