Maya Jasanoff

Maya R. Jasanoff is an American academic. She serves as Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard University, where she focuses on the history of Britain and the British Empire.[1]

Maya R. Jasanoff
EducationHarvard College

Cambridge University

Yale University
OccupationHistorian, author
EmployerHarvard University
Notable work
Edge of Empire (2005)
Liberty's Exiles (2011)
TitleCoolidge Professor of History
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship
Windham–Campbell Literature Prize

Early lifeEdit

Jasanoff grew up in Ithaca, New York and comes from a family of academics. Her parents, Sheila and Jay Jasanoff, are both Harvard professors, and her brother Alan is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[2] She was educated at Harvard College before studying for a master's degree at Cambridge, where she worked with Christopher Bayly. She earned her Ph.D. at Yale with Linda Colley, completing the thesis "French and British imperial collecting in Egypt and India, 1780-1820" (Yale, 2002).[3]


Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard, Jasanoff was a fellow at the University of Michigan, through its Society of Fellows, after which she taught at the University of Virginia.[1]


Edge of EmpireEdit

Jasanoff published her first book, Edge of Empire: Lives, Culture, and Conquest in the East, 1750-1850, with Alfred A. Knopf in 2005 and received mostly favorable reviews. In the London Review of Books, UCLA history and political science professor Anthony Pagden called the work a "brilliant contribution" to the historical investigation of the complexities of empire;[4] in The Guardian, Richard Gott called it "a riveting and original book."[5] However, in The American Historical Review, University of Pennsylvania English professor Suvir Kaul said Jasanoff's history of "objects and individuals, no matter how lovingly recollected, do not add up to an argument that historians should think of empire as instantiating 'the essential humanity of successful international relationships'," and underestimate the "concerns of those peoples who were at the receiving end of imperial power, whether that power was exerted by Europeans or by the native elites who functioned increasingly at their command.[6] Similarly in The New York Times, Columbia University history professor Mark Mazower found "a high degree of wishful thinking" in Jasanoff's casting 18th- and early 19th-century empire as less asymmetrical domination and more "the kind of happy cross-cultural fusion that we dream about today".[7]

Liberty's ExilesEdit

Jasanoff published Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World in 2011, also with Alfred A. Knopf.[8][9][10][11] The book describes the trajectories of the approximately 60,000 loyalists who fled the American Revolution to relocate in other parts of the British Empire; some 8,000 of those who elected to relocate were free black people, but 15,000 enslaved people of African descent were also forcibly moved when their owners chose to go. Liberty's Exiles was widely and favorably reviewed.[12][13] In The New York Times, Thomas Bender called it a "richly informative account," "smart, deeply researched and elegantly written."[14]

The Dawn WatchEdit

Jasanoff's 2017 book, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World,[15] published by Penguin Press[16] and in the UK by William Collins[17] centers on the life and times of novelist Joseph Conrad.[18] The Times lauded the book as the "Conrad for our time,"[19] and The Spectator called her an "enviably gifted writer....her historian's eye can untie knots that might baffle the pure critic," noting that she "steers us securely and stylishly through those latitudes where Conrad witnessed the future scupper the past."[20] In the judgment of the Financial Times: "This is an unobtrusively skilful, subtle, clear-eyed book, beautifully narrated," [21] while the Literary Review observes: "Written with a novelist's flair for vivid detail and a scholar's attention to texts, The Dawn Watch is by any standard a major contribution to our understanding of Conrad and his time."[22] Reviewing the book in The Guardian, Patrick French began: "The Dawn Watch will win prizes, and if it doesn't, there is something wrong with the prizes."[23] In The Hindu, Sudipta Datta wrote that Jasanoff's approach to Conrad makes for a "remarkable retelling of Joseph Conrad's life and work and its resonance with the present dysfunctional world."[24] In The Guardian, William Dalrymple named the book to his list of best holiday reads of 2017.[25] According to the Wall Street Journal's reviewer, "'The Dawn Watch' is the most vivid and suggestive biography of Conrad ever written."[26] In The New York Times, Ngugi wa Thiong'O applauded the book as "masterful." Thiong'O wrote that Jasanoff succeeded where "An Image of Africa: Racism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Chinua Achebe's classic Conrad essay, had failed, specifically in bringing into clear relief "Conrad's ability to capture the hypocrisy of the 'civilizing mission' and the material interests that drove capitalist empires, crushing the human spirit." "'The Dawn Watch,' Thiong'O wrote, "will become a creative companion to all students of his work. It has made me want to re-establish connections with the Conrad whose written sentences once inspired in me the same joy as a musical phrase."[27]

As part of the project, Jasanoff blogged a journey on a cargo ship sailing from China to Europe.[28] She also published an essay in The New York Times describing the portion of her journey in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the piece drew criticism.[29] In a letter to the editor, Boston University professor Timothy Longman said the essay "reeks of condescension" and "continues the widespread practice of ignoring the voices of Congolese intellectuals, many of whom write about their homeland with nuance."[30]

The Dawn Watch was discussed on Andrew Marr's Start the Week program on 6 November 2017.[31] It was BBC Radio Four's Book of the Week.[32]


In 2005, Jasanoff won the Duff Cooper Prize for Edge of Empire.[33] She won both the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-Fiction[34] and 2012 George Washington Book Prize[35] for Liberty's Exiles. She won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013[36] and in 2017, she was awarded the Windham–Campbell Literature Prize, valued at $165,000.[37]

Jasanoff won the 2018 Cundill History Prize valued at $75,000 for The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World.[38]



  • Edge of empire : lives, culture, and conquest in the East, 1750–1850.
  • Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World
  • The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

Essays and reportingEdit

Critical studies and reviews of Jasanoff's workEdit

The dawn watch

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b Pezza, Elizabeth C. (April 28, 2009). "15 Faculty Hot Shots: Maya Jasanoff". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Maya Jasanoff Professor of History". History Department. Harvard University.
  3. ^ Colley, Linda. "Teaching". Linda Colley, Historian and Author. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  4. ^ Pagden, Anthony (2006-05-11). "C is for Colonies". London Review of Books. pp. 30–31. ISSN 0260-9592. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  5. ^ Gott, Richard (2005-08-20). "The collectors". The Guardian. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  6. ^ "In This Issue". The American Historical Review. 112 (3): xiii–xv. 2007-06-01. doi:10.1086/ahr.112.3.xiii. ISSN 0002-8762.
  7. ^ Mazower, Mark (2005-10-09). "'Edge of Empire': Skirmishes of Empire". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  8. ^ Maier, Pauline (2011-03-13). "Maya Jasanoff's "Liberty's Exiles," on British Loyalists after the revolution". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  9. ^ Roberts, Andrew (2011-02-12). "Liberty's Exiles by Maya Jasanoff: Review". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  10. ^ Piecuch, Jim (2012-03-10). "Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (review)". Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. 109 (3): 475–477. doi:10.1353/khs.2011.0119. ISSN 2161-0355.
  11. ^ Howe, Stephen (2011-02-25). "Liberty's Exiles, By Maya Jasanoff". The Independent. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  12. ^ Hunt, By Tristram. "Liberty's Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire by Maya Jasanoff: review". Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  13. ^ Wood, Gordon S. "Good Losers". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  14. ^ Bender, Thomas (2011-04-29). "Book Review - Liberty's Exiles - By Maya Jasanoff". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  15. ^ "THE DAWN WATCH by Maya Jasanoff". Kirkus Reviews. August 21, 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  16. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff. Penguin Press, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59420-581-1". Publishers Weekly. June 26, 2017. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  17. ^ "The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff - Hardcover | HarperCollins". HarperCollins UK. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  18. ^ Lambert, Craig (2014). "Prescient fiction Joseph Conrad's Crystal Ball". Harvard Magazine. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  19. ^ Carey, Review by John (2017-10-15). "Book review: The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  20. ^ "How Joseph Conrad foresaw world trade and terrorism | The Spectator". The Spectator. 2017-10-14. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  21. ^ "Subscribe to read". Financial Times. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  22. ^ "John Gray - Homo Duplex". Literary Review. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  23. ^ French, Patrick (2017-11-03). "The Dawn Watch by Maya Jasanoff – Joseph Conrad in world history". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  24. ^ Datta, Sudipta (2017-11-04). "Darkness visible: review of 'The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World'". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  25. ^ Barnes, Julian; Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi; Hare, David; Lawson, Mark; Mishra, Pankaj; Monbiot, George; Perry, Sarah; Soueif, Ahdaf; Tóibín, Colm (2017-07-08). "Best holiday reads 2017, picked by writers – part one". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-09-18.
  26. ^ Gorra, Michael (2017-11-10). "Review: Following in Joseph Conrad's Wake With 'The Dawn Watch'". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  27. ^ Thiong'O, Ngugi wa (2017-11-21). "The Contradictions of Joseph Conrad". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-24.
  28. ^ Jasanoff, Maya (December 22, 2013). "Sailing the seas of global trade: From China to Europe on a cargo ship". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  29. ^ Chutel, Lynsey. "It's time to stop using Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' as a guidebook for the Congo". Quartz. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
  30. ^ Longman, Timothy (2017-08-23). "The Complexity of Congo". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-08-26.
  31. ^ "Start the Week - Next on - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  32. ^ "The Dawn Watch, Book of the Week - BBC Radio 4". BBC. Retrieved 2017-11-11.
  33. ^ Brickhouse, Robert (March 3, 2006). "'Edge of Empire' wins Duff Cooper Prize". Inside UVA Online. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  34. ^ Hoffert, Barbara (March 8, 2012). "National Book Critics Circle: For Immediate Release: NBCC Award Winners for Publishing Year 2011". Critical Mass. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  35. ^ "George Washington Book Prize of $50,000 goes to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World". Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. June 4, 2012. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  36. ^ "Maya Jasanoff". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Retrieved September 11, 2017.
  37. ^ Mike Cummings (March 1, 2017). "Yale awards eight writers $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prizes". YaleNews. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  38. ^ "Walking in Joseph Conrad's footsteps, Maya Jasanoff Wins 2018 Cundill History Prize". Newsroom. Retrieved 2018-11-16.
  39. ^ Online version is titled "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and the art of ambivalence".