Cornell University’s Derrick Spires Wins the St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize

Derrick R. Spires, associate professor of English at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, was awarded the St. Louis Mercantile Library Prize. The award, given by the Bibliographical Society of America, honors research in the bibliography of American literature and history.

Dr. Spires has honored for his book The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019). In his research, Dr. Spires found a series of documents published by Black writers around 1808. These addresses on the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade routinely began with the phrase “fellow citizens.” The phrase prompted Spires to ask himself, “On what basis could African Americans claim citizenship?” Before the 14th Amendment, which required that people – not just citizens – be treated the same under the law, there was no standard federal definition of who was and wasn’t a citizen, he notes.

Dr. Spires joined the Cornell faculty this past fall after teaching at the University of Illinois for seven years. He is a graduate of Tougaloo College in Mississippi, where he majored in English. Dr. Spires holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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