Alumni Profiles, News

Alumna Awarded the World’s Largest History Prize for Outstanding Work

Jones-Rogers & book

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers—who earned her undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Rutgers University–New Brunswick and her master’s degree from Rutgers University–Newark—has won the Dan David Prize.

More than 20 years before winning the Dan David Prize, one of the history field’s most prestigious prizes, Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers came to Rutgers University–New Brunswick as an undergraduate to study psychology. But classes she took with groundbreaking historians such as Professor Deborah Gray White—who is credited with opening a new field of study into women slaves in the South—set her on a path toward history.

Jones-Rogers, who went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Livingston College in 2003, a master’s degree in history from Rutgers–Newark in 2007, and a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers–New Brunswick in 2012, is now Chancellor’s Professor of History at UC Berkeley. The Dan David Prize, which was announced recently and will be awarded to Jones-Rogers in May, is a MacArthur-style “genius grant” that awards $300,000 to support further research to up to nine early to mid-career scholars and practitioners in the historical disciplines. Past winners have included Canadian author Margaret Atwood, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci.

Jones-Rogers says the prize “means a great deal to me personally. I’m the descendant of enslaved people, the granddaughter of North Carolina sharecroppers, and the daughter of a single New Jersey mother. I’ve been very poor for most of my life. So, I never dreamed of being honored in this way. This prize is something my ancestors could never dream of. It feels wonderful.”

The author of the critically acclaimed 2019 book They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, Jones-Rogers was recognized for her work on women’s social, economic, and legal relationships to enslaved people and to the slave trade in the trans-Atlantic world, topics she started exploring as an undergraduate at Rutgers. “Looking back is just as significant as looking forward,” says Jones-Rogers, who grew up in Newark. “Having the opportunity to provide a broader context about women, gender, and slavery to explain why things are happening as they are today is an honor. It’s crucial to make the information publicly available for all.”

In addition to White, Jones-Rogers credits elective women’s and gender studies courses under Professor Emeritus Harriet Davidson and classes with preeminent scholar Kim Butler, for encouraging her to explore new ideas and think more about women in slavery. “Those courses were fundamental and instrumental in how I thought about women,” she says. “Despite my initial desire to pursue a different career, I never lost sight of my desire to contribute to these important issues.”

Jones-Rogers also praises her experience working on her master’s degree at Rutgers–Newark. “I consider my time at Rutgers–Newark instrumental in making this award possible,” Jones-Rogers says. “Faculty in the History Department, especially Beryl Satter, Karen Caplan, Susan Carruthers, James Goodman, Eva Giloi, and Stephen Pemberton, were critical to my training, and they helped me become the historian I am today.”

Jones-Rogers returned to New Brunswick in 2007 to complete her doctorate and study under White, a Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History. Jones-Rogers’ dissertation, which become the basis for They Were Her Property, won the Lerner-Scott Prize, which is given annually by the Organization of American Historians for the best doctoral dissertation in U.S. women’s history. “I could not imagine a better place than Rutgers to study history and a more supportive mentor than Professor White who supported me in every way—not just professionally, but emotionally,” she says. “These were extremely difficult topics to research.”

This story draws on previously published stories by Megan Schumann, which appeared on Rutgers Today, and Lawrence Lerner, which ran on the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences–Newark news page.