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Best Book Honors for Historian of Family Secrets

Book by British historian tells powerful story about shame’s familial history

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University historian Deborah Cohen has received two prestigious best book prizes for “Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day” (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Cohen’s book takes an intimate look at how social change happens at home, with a focus on the role that family secrets, so often associated with repression, have played in the transformation of social mores from the Victorian era to the present day United Kingdom.

Cohen, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and professor of history in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, is the recipient of the 2014 Stansky Book Prize from the North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS), awarded annually for the best book published anywhere by a North American scholar on any aspect of British studies since 1800.

She also is the recipient of the 2014 Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the American Historical Association, awarded annually in recognition of the best book in English in the field of British, British imperial or British Commonwealth history since 1485.

Cohen, also won the Forkosch prize and NACBS prizes in 2007 for her book “Household Gods: The British and Their Possessions” (Yale University Press, 2006). She is the first person to have won either award twice.

In 2013, “Family Secrets” was named best book of the year by writers at three United Kingdom publications: The Spectator, The Sunday Times and The Times Literary Supplement.

In her review in The Times Literary Supplement, Frances Wilson said:

“Starting with the premise that a private life and a secret life no longer mean the same thing, Deborah Cohen’s rigorous and relevant ‘Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day’ explores the shameful history of how we have covered up our shameful histories.

“She brings together the families who harbored secrets, the individuals -- illegitimate, mentally handicapped, mixed-race -- who were secrets, and the current rage for uncovering the secrets of our ancestors (one in six people who have explored their heritage on Internet sites have apparently discovered something that a previous generation sought to hide).

Topics: Books, Honors

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