2018 Christina Snyder, Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers & Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford University Press)

The 61st annual Francis Parkman Prize is awarded to Christina Snyder for Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers & Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford University Press). Great Crossings recounts the remarkable history of a complex encounter between Native Americans, African-Americans and Anglo-Americans, through a powerful narrative that dramatically alters our understanding of Jacksonian borderlands even as it expands our picture of nineteenth-century American society writ large. Snyder adeptly uses the metaphorical power of “Great Crossings”—the Kentucky estate where the Choctaw Academy brought together these three groups in an ambitious educational project. Snyder traces their meeting across three different dimensions:  geographic, cultural and temporal.

Mixing biography with community study, Snyder brings an intriguing cast of characters to life: the Indian-killer turned educator and politician Richard Mentor Johnson, founder of the school; Johnson’s enslaved wife and daughters, Julia, Imogene, and Adaline Chinn; dozens of brilliant and sometimes resistant Native students—Peter Pitchlynn, Joel Barrow, and Wash Trahern among them—whose lives were irrevocably changed by their years at the academy. Writing with fluency and ease, Snyder constructs a narrative that is both strongly grounded and sweepingly significant, moving from telling detail to historiographical intervention while maintaining the interpretive, analytical and theoretical insight that marks the best historical writing. Great Crossings makes new and important arguments through a gripping story, brilliantly told, and thus exemplifies the literary and scholarly tradition marked by the Francis Parkman Prize. 

Christina Snyder is the McCabe Greer Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University.