The Pulitzer Prize nominating jury has named Jacqueline Jones, chair of the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin, a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist in history for her book, A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama’s America.
The nomination surprised Jones, who didn’t know her publisher had submitted her work for consideration.
“When a colleague emailed me to tell me I was a finalist, it came as a complete surprise,” Jones says. “I was gratified to know that the Pulitzer jury thought my book deserved a wide readership. I think I speak for my colleagues when I say that we professors are always hoping to reach a wider audience outside of the academy.”
In her book, Jones examines the myth of race in America and considers the political and economic forces that produce the fiction that people are fundamentally different because of their race.
Jones, who grew up in the small, segregated town of Christiana, Delaware, became passionate about the importance of history at a young age.
“As a child, I was always curious about the fact that the black children who lived near my school had to attend another school several miles away,” Jones says. “So when I was young I decided to find out how and why segregation came about, and what this invidious type of discrimination meant. I discovered the best way to do that was to study history.”
Jones became chair of the history department in August and has been a professor at UT Austin since 2008. She teaches a variety of history courses—everything from first-year seminars to graduate courses—and American history is especially close to her heart.
“I think it’s essential that everybody learn about American history; it’s a story of great drama, and of course the past shapes who we are today,” Jones says. “I love introducing my students to the grand sweep of American history, and to fascinating individuals they may not have heard about—ordinary people who changed history.”
“An understanding in history is necessary for an educated person and an informed citizen,” Jones says. “The study of history requires us to evaluate various kinds of evidence, think critically and write clearly—all skills integral to success not just in college, but also in the wider world.
“We can better comprehend our own families and communities, and the United States and its relations with other countries today if we know something about the past,” she adds. “Finally, history is fascinating! Anyone who loves a good story will love history, where the human experience in all its complexity is played out on a grand stage.”
Jones was first named a Pulitzer finalist in 1986 for her book Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women and the Family from Slavery to Present, which also won the Bancroft prize. Jones was also awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship (nicknamed the “genius grant”) in 1999.
Feature image: Jacqueline Jones is chair and professor of the Department of History.