American Studies

Janet Davis Wins Constance Rourke Prize

Mon, August 11, 2014

We’re thrilled to share with the news that Dr. Janet Davis has won the Constance Rourke Prize for the best essay in American Quarterly in 2013 for her piece entitled “Cockfight Nationalism: Bloodsport and the Moral Politics of American Empire and Nation Building.” 

Succinctly summarizing the essay, the prize committee shared why they believed Dr. Davis was deserving of the award: “Focusing on conflicts between imperial statesmen, social reformers, and indigenous cockfight enthusiasts in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines ‘Cockfight Nationalism’ reveals how ideologies of modernity, citizenship, animal protection, and national sovereignty were constructed and contested as part of the U.S. empire-building project. It draws on an impressive archive of primary and secondary materials that highlight competing political claims made by colonial officials, social reformers, and local cockfighters. At the same time, the essay remains attentive to what you term the ‘elusive’ subjectivity of roosters who play such a central role in this story. Our committee agreed that "Cockfight Nationalism" offers a powerful and brilliantly researched account of the cultural power of cockfighting as site of leisure, spectacle, and contestation.”

Dr. Davis expressed her surprise and thanks, saying, “I am deeply honored to receive the Constance Rourke Prize from the American Studies Association My original reply to this wonderful news from the prize committee included this line, which succinctly describes my state of mind at the time: 'I am shaking with happiness and basically speechless right now!!!'" 

The abstract of her article is below and it can be found in full here (login necessary): 

"This essay explores the symbiotic relationship between animal welfare and ideologies of nation building and exceptionalism during a series of struggles over cockfighting in the new US Empire in the early twentieth century. Born out of the shared experience of American overseas expansionism, these clashes erupted in the American Occupied Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, where the battle lines pitting American-sponsored animal protectionists against indigenous cockfight enthusiasts were drawn along competing charges of cruelty and claims of self-determination. I argue that battles over the cockfight were a form of animal nationalism—that is to say, cockfight nationalism. Cockfight enthusiasts and opponents alike mapped gendered, raced, and classed ideologies of nation and sovereignty onto the bodies of fighting cocks to stake their divergent political and cultural claims regarding the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, moral uplift, benevolence, and national belonging."

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