UChicago Press awards top honor to Michael Rossi for ‘The Republic of Color’

Historian wins 2021 Laing Award for study of color science, influence on America

The University of Chicago Press has awarded the 2021 Gordon J. Laing Award to historian Michael Rossi for The Republic of Color: Science, Perception, and the Making of Modern America, which examines the origins of color science and its impact on this country.

President Paul Alivisatos presented the award during a Nov. 10 reception at the David Rubenstein Forum. The event also honored UChicago scholar Eve L. Ewing, who won the 2020 Laing Award for Ghosts in the Schoolyard.

Given annually as the Press’ top honor, the Laing Award is presented to the UChicago faculty author, editor or translator of a book published in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction.

“Since the earliest days of the University, UChicago Press has played an important role in connecting the work of our faculty and scholars to the world-at-large,” Alivisatos said. “I am delighted to be part of this year’s Gordon J. Laing Award ceremony, which affords us the opportunity to celebrate books of distinction written by members of our faculty, and offer my warmest congratulations to Eve L. Ewing and Michael Rossi for their well-deserved awards.”

The award is named in honor of Gordon J. Laing, the scholar who, serving as general editor from 1909 until 1940, firmly established the character and reputation of the University of Chicago Press as the premier academic publisher in the United States. The honor is conferred annually by vote of the Board of University Publications, a committee of faculty members who oversee the Press’ imprint.

Published in 2019, The Republic of Color received praise from the journal Science: “This book does a beautiful job of weaving together the way the different color sciences have made a cultural impact throughout history.”

In an interview with the Press in 2019, Rossi—an associate professor in UChicago’s Department of History—discussed his “long-standing obsession with design and painting.” The title of The Republic of Color, he added, reflected the book’s emphasis on both color and politics, and how color perception served as “an important part of the project of American statecraft at the turn of the century.”

“I am incredibly honored to be a Laing Award recipient, not simply for the recognition itself, but also to know that the book would be held in proximity with so many scholars that I admire for the rigor, intensity and intellectual curiosity of their work,” Rossi said. “I want to extend my gratitude to everyone that I’ve worked with at the Press, and my colleagues who supported the project through some unlikely moments. The book benefited from the advice, care, critical questions and insightful imaginings of many folks at the Press, in the history department, and around the University.”

The Nov. 10 ceremony also honored Ewing, an assistant professor in UChicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice who won the 2020 Laing Award for Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side. Published in hardcover in 2018 and reprinted in paperback in 2020, the book draws on Ewing’s insider experience in the Chicago Public School system—as a student, a teacher, and a researcher—to situate the city’s wave of school closings in 2013 within a larger context. The book was praised by other acclaimed authors, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, and was discussed on NPR, The Nation, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and many other media organizations.

Ewing and Rossi join a distinguished list of previous recipients that includes Adrian Johns, Deborah Nelson, Alison Winter, Robert Richards, Martha Feldman, Bernard E. Harcourt, Philip Gossett and W. J. T. Mitchell.

“The enthusiastic reception of both of these books speaks to not only their exceptional writing and research but also their place in ongoing conversations both within and outside of the academy,” said Garrett Kiely, director of the UChicago Press. “I am very proud to have them both on Chicago’s list.”

Ryan Coyne, chair of the Board of University Publications, described Rossi’s The Republic of Color as “a beautifully crafted intellectual history” that “exemplifies the University of Chicago’s commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry.”

“Eve Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard and Michael Rossi’s The Republic of Color are both remarkable pieces of scholarship,” Coyne said.

—Adapted from a release first published by the University of Chicago Press.