Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 7, 2013

Local woman earns historians' book awards

Study on French Guiana wins top prizes

The Andover Townsman

---- — Miranda Frances Spieler, associate professor of history at the American University of Paris, has been selected as the winner of the American Historical Association’s 2013 J. Russell Major Prize and 2013 George L. Mosse prize for her book, “Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana” (Harvard Univ. Press, 2012).

The AHA is the largest organization of historians in the U.S. Its J. Russell Major Prize is awarded annually for the best work in English on any aspect of French history. The George L. Mosse Prize is awarded annually for an outstanding major work of extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity and originality in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500.

Both prizes will be awarded during a ceremony at the association’s 128th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., Jan. 2 through 5.

The daughter of longtime Andover residents Dr. Phyllis Spieler and Dr. Paul Spieler, Spieler was singled out for her “innovative” research.

“Miranda Spieler’s innovative study of French Guiana from the late 18th century to 1870 examines the spatial and legal history of the colony in ways that invite a profound reconsideration of the relationship of France to its colonial territories,” Katherine B. Crawford, chairwoman of the 2013 Major Prize, said in a release.

“Analyzing material and cultural remains, as well as silences and lacunae in the record, Spieler elegantly challenges many presumptions about nation, empire, slavery, incarceration and violence.”

Spieler graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 1989 and went on to Harvard University, where she earned her degree magna cum laude in history and literature with a focus on Germany and France.

Before she enrolled in graduate school, she worked as the personal assistant to writer Susan Sontag in New York. She continued her work with Sontag while earning her Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in New York in 2005.

Spieler moved to Tucson, Ariz., in fall 2005 and became assistant professor at the University of Arizona. She was named an associate professor on receiving tenure in 2011. She has also served as a lecturer at Columbia, Wesleyan University in Connecticut and in the Committee on Degrees in history and literature at Harvard.

In August, Spieler moved to Paris with her daughter, Althea, and took a permanent position as associate professor at the American University of Paris to facilitate her work on several projects, which she says requires more archival research than she can complete on her one- or two-month summer trips to Paris.

She is currently working on a book about slaves living in Paris during the 18th century.

The J. Russell Major prize was established in memory of J. Russell Major, a distinguished scholar of French history who served on the history faculty at Emory University in Georgia from 1949 until his retirement in 1990. The George L. Mosse Prize was established in honor of George Lachmann Mosse, American cultural historian, with funds donated by former students, colleagues and friends of the late Dr. Mosse.

Spieler’s book was selected for the J. Russell Major Prize by a review committee comprised of American Historical Association members including Crawford (Vanderbilt University in Tennessee), Todd Shepard (Johns Hopkins University in Maryland) and Leslie Tuttle (University of Kansas). The George L. Mosse prize review committee that also selected Spieler’s book as its top choice included AHA members chairwoman Tracie M. Matysik (University of Texas, Austin), Brad S. Gregory (University of Notre Dame in Indiana), and Harry Liebersohn (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).

The American Historical Association is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 and incorporated by Congress in 1889 for the promotion of historical studies. The AHA is comprised of more than 14,000 members and serves historians representing every historical period and geographical area. Visit for more.