Duke Alumna, Professor Cited by Pulitzer Committee

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday, and two awards with strong Duke connections were honored.

Duke alumna and former history professor Elizabeth Fenn won the history prize for "Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People." (Macmillan). Fenn pieces together new discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, climatology, epidemiology, and nutritional science to write a history of the little known Mandan Indians, Plains people whose busy towns on the upper Missouri River were for centuries at the center of the North American universe.

The Mandans numbered about 15,000 in the year 1500, Fenn said, and her work profiles them through their encounter with Lewis and Clark and a terrible smallpox epidemic in 1837-38.

Fenn's previous book, "Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82" (Hill and Wang, 2001), written while a history faculty member at Duke, also earned several awards and critical praise.

In addition, Duke Music Professor Thomas Brothers' "Louis Armstrong Master of Modernism" (W.W. Norton) was selected as a “Finalist” for 2015, category Biography or Autobiography, for the Pulitzer Prize.

In selecting the book as a finalist, the Pulitzer committee said "the masterfully researched second volume of a life of the musical pioneer, effectively showing him in the many milieus where he lived and worked in the 1920s and 1930s."

Since its release in February 2014, "Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism has garnered enthusiastic reviews from critics and scholars alike. Loren Schoenberg, artistic director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem writes, “Thomas Brothers has brought together startling new discoveries and insights, a fresh look at hallowed recordings, and an understanding of the multifold influences that helped shape Louis Armstrong. In so doing, he has written by far the most complete and original look at an American icon whose influence continues into its second century.”