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Early American Literature Announces Winner of 2016 Book Prize

The Early American Literature Book Prize, which in even years recognizes a first monograph, has been awarded in 2016 to Dr. Robert Gunn of the University of Texas at El Paso, for Ethnology and Empire: Languages, Literature, and the Making of the North American Borderlands, published by New York University Press in 2015.

Members of the prize committee describe Ethnology and Empire as "tremendously careful, historically and archivally illuminating, and intellectually provocative." They characterize it as an "inevitable book" that will "influence thinking in anthropology, history, literary studies, and Native Studies." They stress the way that Gunn "consistently and informatively foregrounds language of all kinds (and in particular sign language) in narrating the story of the racialization of Native American difference as a justification for imperial expansion on the part of the United States."

The result is a panoramic, complex, sometimes contradictory picture of the making of U.S. borders by way of, rather than in willful ignorance of, indigenous languages. Along the way, some extraordinary characters are depicted, from the Long Expedition of 1819-21; to the peripatetic and ill-fated John Dunn Hunter; to John Russell Bartlett and the U.S.-Mexico boundary survey. Gunn's attention to a variety of interpersonal encounters and their narrative representations in the context of a powerful command of contemporary linguistic theory further distinguishes his book as prizeworthy.