History Professor Wins 2017 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award

University of San Diego History Professor Thomas Barton, PhD, has been selected to receive the 2017 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award for the best book published in 2015 or 2016 on Medieval and Early Jewish History and Culture. Contested Treasure: Jews and Authority in the Crown of Aragon is Barton’s first book and was published by Penn State Press as the inaugural volume of its new series, Iberian Encounter and Exchange, 475-1755, in 2015.

The Jordan Schnitzer Book Award was established in 2008 by the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation to honor scholars whose work embodies the best in the field: rigorous research, theoretical sophistication, innovative methodology, and excellent writing. It is administered by the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), a learned and professional organization whose mission is to advance research and teaching in Jewish Studies at colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning, and foster greater understanding of Jewish Studies scholarship among the wider public. The Prize Committee, composed of experts in the field, chose Contested Treasure from a pool of over 100 submissions. Barton will receive his award at a December 17 ceremony during the 49th Annual AJS Conference in Washington, D.C.

“This news came as a tremendous surprise and has taken some time to sink in,” Barton remarked. “I had always hoped that my book would be recognized as a significant contribution to Jewish history and feel immense gratitude to the AJS, the Schnitzer Family, and Prize Committee for honoring my work like this. I’d also like to thank the History Department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the university for supporting my research over the many years that it took to complete this project.”

In Contested Treasure, Barton examines how the Jews in the Crown of Aragon in the 12th through 14th centuries negotiated the overlapping jurisdictions and power relations of local lords and the crown. The 13th century was a formative period for the growth of royal bureaucracy and the development of the crown’s legal claims regarding the Jews. While many Jews were under direct royal authority, significant numbers of Jews also lived under non-royal and seigniorial jurisdiction. Barton argues that royal authority over the Jews (as well as Muslims) was far more modest and contingent on local factors than is usually recognized. Diverse case studies reveal that the monarchy’s Jewish policy emerged slowly, faced considerable resistance, and witnessed limited application within numerous localities under non-royal control, thus allowing for more highly differentiated local modes of Jewish administration and coexistence. Contested Treasure thus refines and complicates our portrait of interfaith relations and the limits of royal authority in medieval Spain, and it presents a new approach to the study of ethno-religious relations and administrative history in medieval European society.

This is the second major award garnered by Contested Treasure. Last year it received the Best First Book Award from the Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, which considered all first monographs in Iberian history (from ancient to modern) in English, Spanish, and Portuguese over a three-year period (2013-2015). 

Barton joined USD’s faculty in 2007. He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with a major in History and a certificate in Medieval Studies in 1998, and received his PhD from Yale University in 2006. His research concerns the social history of Europe, the Mediterranean, and the emerging Atlantic world with a focus on contacts between Europeans and non-Europeans in the medieval and early modern periods. His second book, Ambivalent Conquest: The Political Implications of Catalonia’s Frontier with Islam, will be published by Cornell University Press in 2018.

— Melissa Olesen