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Shapiro Book Prize

Shapiro Book Prize Lecture: Happy Dreams of Liberty

On the occasion of winning The Huntington’s 2023 Shapiro Book Prize for Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom, R. Isabela Morales discusses the significance of writing family history, the challenges of tracing the lives of enslaved people, and the incredible cache of unpublished letters and legal documents that forms the archival core of her book. Watch


Feb. 13, 2023 - The Huntington Names Winner of 2023 Shapiro Book Prize

R. Isabela Morales is the winner of the 2023 Shapiro Book Prize, The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today. Morales won for her 2022 monograph Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom (Oxford University Press), and the prize carries with it a $10,000 cash award. A public historian, Morales is the editor and project manager of the Princeton & Slavery Project and the digital projects manager at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Skillman, New Jersey.

The review committee for the prize described Happy Dreams of Liberty as “beautifully written and utterly engrossing” and “a work of prodigious research.” The book follows the remarkable story of the descendants of Samuel Townsend, a wealthy plantation owner who upon his death granted emancipation to his enslaved children and nieces, leaving them with a net worth of approximately $200,000. Happy Dreams of Liberty “draws on a rich cache of letters written by the Townsend children themselves, as it chronicles their odyssey across the country in search of freedom, equality, and belonging.” More

Book cover (left) and author (right).

(L–R) Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2022), winner of the 2023 Shapiro Book Prize. R. Isabela Morales. Photo: Charles Swanson


Dec. 2022 - Finalists Announced for The Huntington’s 2023 Shapiro Book Prize

Six finalists have been named to the shortlist for The Huntington’s Shapiro Book Prize, awarded biennially for an outstanding first scholarly monograph in American political, social, intellectual, or cultural history. A special emphasis is given to books that make exceptional use of primary source materials. The six finalists were selected by a committee of preeminent scholars in the field. The 2023 winner will be announced in January. The prize comes with a $10,000 cash award, and the winner will be invited to speak at a recognition ceremony at The Huntington in the spring.

The finalists are:

Carla Cevasco
Violent Appetites: Hunger in the Early Northeast
Yale University Press, 2022

Annelise Heinz
Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture
Oxford University Press, 2021

R. Isabela Morales
Happy Dreams of Liberty: An American Family in Slavery and Freedom
Oxford University Press, 2022

Tamika Y. Nunley
At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C.
The University of North Carolina Press, 2021

Kathryn Olivarius
Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom
Harvard University Press, 2022

Stephen Vider
The Queerness of Home: Gender, Sexuality, and the Politics of Domesticity after World War II
The University of Chicago Press, 2021

The book prize was established in 2019 as a part of the Shapiro Center for American History and Culture at The Huntington, which was created to advance scholarship, knowledge, and understanding of American history and culture—especially of the early republic and of the nation’s founders and leaders. The center also promotes use of The Huntington’s premier library collections in this field, which are unique west of the Mississippi.


Nominations for the 2023 Shapiro Book Prize (for volumes published in the calendar years 2021 and 2022) closed Sept. 1, 2022.

Eligibility criteria:

  • The book must be the first monograph published by its author.
  • The book must have a publication date between Jan. 1, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2022.
  • The book must be based on original documentary research in some aspect of American history and culture, broadly defined.
  • Nominations can only be accepted from the publisher of the volume. The deadline for nominations closed as of Sept. 1, 2022.

Questions may be directed to shapirobookprize@huntington.org.

2021 Shapiro Book Prize Winner

The biennial award of $10,000 for outstanding first monograph in American history and culture was awarded to Benjamin Francis-Fallon for The Rise of the Latino Vote: A History. Watch the 2021 Shapiro Book Prize lecture.

The Shapiro Book Prize is awarded biennially for an outstanding first scholarly monograph in American political, social, intellectual, or cultural history. Winners receive a $10,000 cash award and are recognized in a ceremony at The Huntington. The inaugural prize was conferred in January 2021.