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Richard S. Dunn

A Tale of Two Plantations

Harvard University Press

2015 Nonfiction

A Tale of Two Plantations
Richard S. Dunn is a professor emeritus of American History at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and directed the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, the son of an academic. From adolescence, Dunn knew that he wanted to be a scholar.

After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Dunn earned a master’s at Princeton, where he completed his doctorate in history in 1955.

After two years teaching at the University of Michigan, Dunn joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, rising to lead its history department, win its Lindback teaching award and edit its Early American Studies series of books. He won a Guggenheim fellowship, another from the American Council of Learned Societies and a third from Queen’s College, Oxford University.

Dunn’s book Sugar and Slaves has become a classic work in West Indian studies. It galvanized Dunn’s interest in what slowly became A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia.

More than 40 years in the making, A Tale of Two Plantations is a scrupulous, revelatory archival investigation of some 2,000 people enslaved across three generations: roughly half on a Jamaican sugar plantation called Mesopotamia and half on Mount Airy, a Virginia tidewater plantation growing tobacco and grain. This research allows Dunn to ask about enslaved motherhood, the effects of interracial sex on the meaning of family and how individuals fared upon emancipation.

Gracefully written and meticulously documented, the book conjures the final three generations of New World slaves into complex people, starting from the plantation ledgers that had listed and regarded them as mere property.

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Blog Posts about Richard S. Dunn

WATCH: Richard S. Dunn, 2015 Winner Of Anisfield-Wolf Prize: "It Is A Tremendous Honor"

Richard S. Dunn spent 40 years researching and writing "A Tale of Two Plantations," a scrupulous, revelatory archival investigation of some2,000 people enslaved across three generations: roughly half on a Jamaican sugar plantation called Mesopotamia, and half on Mount Airy, a Virginia tidewater plantation growing tobacco and grain. As is our tradition, we interview each of our winners prior to the hustle of the evening to get their quiet thoughts on what being recognized means to them. Here is Dunn's turn in front of the camera: Richard S... Read More →

Meet Our 2015 Winners In And Around Cleveland This September

Anisfield-Wolf award winners are—almost by definition—civic minded. They continue a generous tradition of adding extra public conversations each September in Cleveland. For those readers whose schedules don’t allow them to attend the awards ceremony or who want more than one chance to hear these gifted writers, here are the details: Poet Marilyn Chin, a professor at San Diego State University, will read and discuss her work in Hard Love Province.  She will appear alongside John Carroll University’s Phil Metres, whose recent book... Read More →

Meet Our 2015 Winners

The Cleveland Foundation today announced the winners of its 80th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. The 2015 recipients of the only national juried prize for literature that confronts racism and examines diversity are: • Jericho Brown, The New Testament, Poetry • Marilyn Chin, Hard Love Province, Poetry• David Brion Davis, Lifetime Achievement• Richard S. Dunn, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia, Nonfiction• Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Fiction “The new Anisfield-Wolf... Read More →
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