The NYU Arts & Science Department of History made its own history when professors Nicole Eustace and Ada Ferrer were each awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for their most recent books. Even for a top-ranked department with a much-lauded faculty, two Pulitzers in a single year is special.
Nicole Eustace won for Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America (Liveright). The book was also a finalist for the National Book Award, and earned the Society of American Historians’ Francis Parkman Prize. “With Covered With Night, Eustace takes us deep into the cultural worlds and worldviews of early 18th-century native peoples of the Susquehanna Valley,” said Pulitzer Board member Tommie Shelby, a professor at Harvard University. “In an examination of a confrontation between indigenous peoples’ conceptions of justice and English law used by colonial settlers, we find extraordinary research skill, particularly with the deft handling of indigenous languages, gripping storytelling, and elegant writing.”
Ada Ferrer won for Cuba: An American History (Scribner). “Ada Ferrer, a leading historian of Cuba, provides a succinct yet wide-ranging history of U.S.-Cuba relations from the point of view of the island and its inhabitants,” Shelby added. “It is full of memorable vignettes, beginning with the fact that Christopher Columbus made landfall on the island and not on the North American continent, as is usually assumed. The themes of anti-Black racism, slavery and slave rebellion, imperialism, revolution, the Cold War, land and labor exploitation, and the quest for national self-determination are all seamlessly integrated into a compelling, fast-moving, and vivid narrative.”
Both historians are long-time Arts & Science faculty: Ferrer joined the Department of History in 1995; Eustace in 2002. And both point to a culture of collaboration among the department’s remarkably accomplished faculty as key to their development as historians.
“Intellectual development is very much a long game,” said Eustace. She notes that the 2004 NYU Partners Fund, a $200 million investment in the Arts & Science faculty, was seminal to her own career. “The Partners initiative funded simultaneous strategic hires that included Fred Cooper, Jane Burbank, and Lauren Benton among others. Their combined work on law, empire, and identity very much informs Covered with Night, work published two decades later.”
2004’s large-scale recruitment of emerging and pre-eminent scholars in the arts and sciences prompted then-president John Sexton to predict that “as a group, these new faculty will be institution builders in every sense of the word.” His reference to institution-building was well founded: in 1984, an historic investment in Arts & Science faculty and research had fueled NYU’s improbable rise from a night school serving commuters to an elite university. The Partners Fund investment paid off in similar style, propelling NYU to a place among the top-tier global research universities.
The 2023 US News Best Grad Schools rankings placed the Department of History and specializations including European History, Modern US History and US Colonial History in the nation’s top twenty. African History ranked in the top ten, while African-American History, Cultural History and Latin American History ranked in the top five. “As a department, we are more than the sum of our parts,” said Eustace. “Sharing the Pulitzer experience with Ada has deepened my conviction of that, along with my joy in winning.”
“NYU has been an intellectual home for me over my whole career,” said Ferrer. “That dynamic intellectual exchange with people outside our fields develops our work’s potential to have more universal appeal – to speak compellingly to people not already interested in what we're doing, and fostering work that can be at once scholarly and accessible to a wider public. There are plenty of faculty in our department who like to think about writing as an artful part of what we do. To an equal degree we are historians and writers, and that's been a great environment to produce work.”
Ferrer and Eustace also share a commitment to nurturing the development of the next generation’s Pulitzer-worthy historians, and an appreciation for their students’ contribution to the intellectual community of the department.
Ferrer said: “Graduate students become interlocutors and colleagues, and undergraduates also add to the conversation. I've taught two first-year College of Arts & Science seminars using material from Cuba: An American History. Sharing my passion for the subject elicited responses from students that helped me think about the book’s structure, narrative and tone.”
“We engage closely with students starting from their first year,” said Eustace. “Our popular undergraduate lecture class History in the Headlines invites students to think about the deep roots of current events, while small seminars train graduates and undergraduates in the skills of research and writing. My book draws on conversations with history students at both the graduate and undergraduate level.”
The Department of History offers undergraduate majors and minors, master’s and doctoral programs, and publishes The Historian, an award-winning, student-run undergraduate research journal.