2015 Franz Steiner Prize for German-American Studies Awarded to Elisabeth Engel

Event Report

On May 28th, 2015, the Franz Steiner Prize, offered biennially for the best German or English-language manuscript in transatlantic and North American studies, was awarded to GHI Research Fellow Elisabeth Engel for her outstanding dissertation "Encountering Empire: African American Missionaries in Colonial Africa, 1900-1939." The prize is awarded by the GHI Washington and the Franz Steiner Verlag in Stuttgart, which publishes the GHI's book series Transatlantische Historische Studien (Transatlantic Historical Studies; THS). It carries an honorarium of 3500 Euro and includes publication of the award-winning manuscript in the THS book series. The award was presented by Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, GHI Deputy Director, and Thomas Schaber, editor-in-chief of the Franz Steiner Verlag, in a ceremony that was part of the festive opening of the annual meeting of the German Association of American Studies (GAAS) in the Great Auditorium of the University of Bonn. Organized by Sabine Sielke, Director of the North American Studies Program in Bonn, it was framed by beautiful acapella music performed by the Jazz Choir of the University of Bonn and attended by over 500 people, including U.S. Ambassador John B. Emerson, U.S. Consul General Kevin C. Milas, Lord Mayor of Bonn Jürgen Nimptsch, GAAS President Carmen Birkle, and the Rector of University of Bonn, Michael Hoch. After briefly introducing the GHI and the THS series, Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson delivered the prize citation honoring this groundbreaking study, which follows in abbreviated form here:

"Engel examines how the African American missionaries sent to Africa by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church navigated the everyday realities of colonial rule, engaging with the world of native Africans on the one and of British elites on the other hand. Brilliantly using the latest theoretical approaches of post-colonial, critical empire, and Black Atlantic studies, Engel's work impresses by the vast scope of its sources. Based on a multitude of sources, Engel is able to let her readers hear the voices and views of the black missionaries as well as the responses of their African contacts in a story that is usually told only from the perspective of white colonizers. By focusing on the roles, self-images, and multiple relationships of local AME churches and individual people, Engel's book closes a major gap in the historiography of colonial and Black Atlantic history. Her research convincingly shows that while AME missionaries worked within the colonial system, they were often able to use imperial structures for their own self-determination and for re-connecting African Americans and Africans in the early twentieth century. Thus Engel's study effectively challenges the popular assumption that Pan-Africanism was the only effective strategy for black liberation and turns a new page in African American and transatlantic history."

Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson