Murrin Prize Awarded to Zachary M. Bennett


Zachary M. Bennett, Assistant Professor of History at Norwich University in Vermont (pictured, with Emma Hart, Director of the McNeil Center) has been awarded the John M. Murrin Prize for the best article published in Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal during 2023. His article "'Canoes of Great Swiftness': Rivercraft and War in the Northeast" appeared in the Spring 2023 issue.

Published by the McNeil Center, EAS provides a forum for original research into the histories and cultures of North America in the Atlantic world before 1850. Recipients of the Murrin Prize, which is named for John M. Murrin (1935-2020), are chosen by a sub-committee of the editorial board.

The committee wrote: In “Canoes of Great Swiftness,” Bennett reveals that the key to Wabanaki success in repelling English colonization was their watercraft technology, which allowed them to dominate the complex river networks of Northern New England in ways the English failed to do. This article makes a significant contribution to a growing historiography on the Red Atlantic - that is, the way native peoples encountered European empires in the littoral zones of North and South America. It shows how geographical differences between northern and southern New England contributed to technological differentiation which in turn allowed the Wabanakis to more effectively resist English colonization. Bennett counters assumptions of European technological superiority with his focus on canoes--how they were built, their size, and their use.  In doing so, he makes birchbark canoes compelling, exciting, and articulates well their historical and cultural importance. All of this adds dimension to the history and brings it to life. 

In addition to Bennett’s award, the prize committee awarded an honorable mention to Gustave Lester, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University for his article "Land, Fur, and Copper: The Union of Settler Colonialism and Industrial Capitalism in the Great Lakes Region, 1815–1842."

The committee wrote: In this article, Lester challenges us to consider how the entanglement of science and industrial capitalism, and the pursuit of national self-sufficiency drove Indigenous dispossession in the upper Midwest in the decades following the War of 1812. Focusing on the early history of Michigan and interweaving stories of the fraught interactions that took place there between scientists, American Fur Company officials, and the Anishinaabeg, Lester demonstrates the complex ways the settler state sought to claim both the land and mineral wealth of Indigenous nations. In doing so, he recasts the history of early U.S. industrial development and offers fresh insights into the mechanics of early U.S. settler colonialism.

This year’s Murrin Prize winner and honorable mention were chosen by a sub-committee of the EAS editorial board. The sub-committee included Kyle Roberts (chair), Tara Bynum, Andrew Fagal, Katharine Gerbner, Tamara Harvey, and Chernoh Sesay. Be sure to visit the EAS Miscellany website for a list of past Murrin Prize winners.

The McNeil Center and the EAS editorial board would like to thank the sub-committee as well as everyone who has submitted articles for publication in EAS.